Insects, great and small, immolated themselves against the blue-charged fields of electricity that crackled and popped like one of those modern foods Louisa had learned to eat back in the Palace. The display of fields worked through the night. It never relented. It warded away the night of the locusts. But Louisa grew tired. She could see the splashes of blue, the bursts of white. The zaps never stopped. Sometimes a big bug would hit the electric field, then Louisa would think the whole house might explode. But they never did. Very soon, they became the only source of light for the dinner. The flames of a few weak candles danced in the middle of the table. But the blue and white explosions served as her only source of light, and with that, she could make out R.P. Luke. He sat at the edge of the table.
Every time a bug disintegrated against the zapper, Ewarian would yell. She could hear him every time. He sat on the floor in the nearby patio. At the moment he played with action figures, ones R.P. Luke had given him. The very same ones Shiloh had designed. The entire set. All the Heroes of Kansas stood together again.
Her visit with the Cobra Warlord was much different than before. In the dancing days, a far different ambiance existed. Thanks, R.P. Luke and Kirsten, for the sexual tension. Janus had blown in her chilly air, maybe to douse the flames of lust by the illicit lovers. But Louisa really remembered the distrust. Janus angry with Kirsten, worried about her infatuation with R.P. Luke. Oh, that dinner. What a dreadful affair.
Since, R.P. Luke and her dined alone, she had an insight. Maybe, despite the legend that said otherwise, the Viscount wasn't a so-called man-of-the-crowds. Maybe he liked to be personal. Maybe the best way to deal with R.P. Luke involved one-on-one conversations. She definitely had one now. Whether she liked it or not.
With the last of the food served to them, and, as they picked the plastic bones of the space tank-grown delicacies, R.P. Luke grew bold and served her more delicacies from high-earth orbit.
-You may not be of age.-
Louisa watched him poor a blue liquid into a glass.
-You're a creep. I wish you'd stay dead.-
He laughed. But she only heard the bug zapper.
-Most have said that to me before. But we live in a time when it's easy to die. You tempted fate with your little stunt at the barn raising. Did you really think the elders would let you teach the kids to dance?-
-I've never heard of a town where you can't dance.-
-So you decided to teach them ‘Footloose?’-
-Shiloh would have.-
-Shiloh! Shiloh would have! Shiloh doesn't have long you know?-
-That makes no sense.-
-He's an actor upon the stage. He knows he has to be there standing when the curtain goes down. So, he yearns to stay in Kansas. But other things...they pull him away. And without the trademarks of the Regency, he is like a monk without his prayer wheel.-
She looked at the blue liquid. Something impossibly bubbled within the glass. It failed to take her mind off what he meant. Die? He had explained to her how he'd staged his death. He seemed ready to do it again. The blue liquid, and him on his third or fourth glass, made him bold.
-Though it's strange. I always thought the whole creation of the Sea of Kansas was... This obliteration of the geographical center of the Americas. This entire attempt to destroy something, then fill it in with an artificial lake. Really. I always wonder why the Old Man didn't put artificial lighting above the sea. But there is the artificial borealis. And Ceres. So there you go.-
-There you do what?-
-So they call me a fascist. And another thing that's been set up. What it was, or is now? You'd have had to have asked the Old Man. But Hirohito is dead. He never got to see the coming age. The New Man...and they call me a fascist….-
She's always heard Shiloh explain things to her about the creation of the Sea of Kansas. But nothing like this. Except for a brief mention about the ignition of old hatreds, she didn't get R.P. Luke's point.
-Here's one to think about: don't you ever think it's weird about, say, the life in our Solar System?-
More weirdness had definitely come. She prepared for its coming.
-Most scientists say it should be dead. The worlds life inhabits shouldn't really support it. But all these worlds do.-
Louisa looked up from the liquid. She had no desire to drink about it.
-I don't understand. This has nothing to do with you dying.-
A bug zapper killed a very big insect.
-Oh, no. But it does, don't you see?-
-No, you haven't told me.-
-Oh, you see, it's all about staging things.-
She let that float around the room for a few minutes. Seconds, maybe.
-Life on planets.-
He started his fifth...teenth...drink. She could barely wait to see how this turned out.
-All the life we've encountered is from the past ages of the Earth. Really. The past epochs. All of it. That's strange. Erie even. Why is that? I think is that how we're seeing it? No, all I've read says this life appears to be, down to the smallest parts, to be past life from our planet. Our evolutionary past...well, I can't explain it, nor am what I saying making any sense.-
Amen, brother. Louisa needed that drink now. The warnings of her mothers came to her. Don't do the brown acid. Maybe it wasn't her mothers after all.
-It doesn't make sense.-
-It's all in the staging. Like my death. Like....-
A succession of zaps sounded off, and flashes of blue and white light blitzed the room.
-How this is all set up for your friends to fail. Someone has had this all staged, to begin with. Each one of your friends will rush to their stations. Almost as if it's their biology to do this. Like a diorama, or something.-
She scrunched her nose up, prepared to take a sip of the liquid. She looked down the glass at R.P. Luke. It made her feel weird. But he paid her no mind.
-Your friends are doing what everyone thinks they are born to do. Through their actions. They confirm their...biological functions, or something.-
She put down the glass.
He slammed his down.
-Listen, my desert princess....There is a Plot and there is a Plan. Your friends mean to save the Empress. For this they will fall into the Plot. Some, like Southcross, will march to war. But that's not the important thing. For the Plot is nothing but a trap. It's not the Plan. That's where the Empress's abductors mean to win. They don't need to win the Plot. They need to win the Plan. And that is where you come in.-
-That's why I brought you here, to have this dinner. Who else is the best of company, but you?-
She had never heard this before. She thought back to past dinners. Janus came to mind. Louisa had always hated those moments. But now? They meant something to her, and she might never have them again.
-Why do you want to eat dinner with me?-
Louisa watched him eat, and she waited.
-Because you were there from the beginning. The first actor in the play.-
-The Rise and Fall of the Empress Kir-sten'ya. The great saga of the final days of the late, great Earth. And we're in the last act. But you. You were there from the beginning.-
She waited to think about that.
-Life isn't a play.-
-Don't be so sure of that.-
Don't have a cow, man!
While the clouds of phase-smoke dissipated, and Catal Huyuk disarmed Jeff Davis and the Carthage Grays, Louisa wondered about the benefits of mutually shared animosity.
Catal Huyuk sure didn't show any signs of affiliation. He did show his guard against the Missouri autarchs, and he did so with the black obsidian edge of his macuahuitl. Hellcats they might have been. He proved it was wise to be content when the tables had been turned.
The actors of her Redemption sure-as-shit bothered her. She cared even less that Jeff Davis' former snotty smile was turned upside down. Shiloh seemed odd as usual, but no secret lay there. She had lea rned to accept his suspicious behavior in the presence of the Sheriff of the Commandments.
She might have gladly enjoyed her Redemption -- if not for her father.
She never asked for his help. She had given up that long ago, right around the time she had abandoned other things. Like that her father would ever return to her. Hadn't she pleaded once to the space-gods of Kolob, so that her father would return? Those tear-filled nights before the statue of Captain Moroni, no matter the idolatry of the moment, which her southern brethren bereaved as the sins of the idolatrous north and the rituals that polluted the seat of Greater Adventium, the faraway Wicked City.
She wanted the angel, but she ended up with the captain.
The Captain. Her father. Captain Lee.
He commanded a squad of Vegas Condottieri, most with the looks of the ancient Formosans. The same looks he had so kindly given her. Louisa had none of her mother's horse-faced looks -- oldEST Indianapolis, be damned!
While Captain Lee might have given her biology, and now, her freedom, redemption usually threatened the use of guns. Yet no violence descended on her and the rest of her party. Hooray. Very quickly her saviors disarmed Jeff Davis and Co. with murderous looks and pointed weapons that did not waver. The show of force was enough, all right.
So deftly did her liberators move, in fact, that Catal Huyuk supported the adventurous Vegas condottieri. She thought about the rumors about Catal Huyuk. Many whispered that he swung the Sword of Laban from his hip, just as all the Mysterium did. Indeed, this proved true on many occasions, and she welcomed the dark warrior much more than her father. More like Le Bon -- Simon Le Bon -- her kinsmen had always been. Catal Huyuk deserved the neo-cola classicist word play, and the title of her redeemer.
As for her father? Not so much.
-Get the fuck away from me.-
Captain Lee smiled a card player’s grin. Maybe one he had learned in the dens of vice. Her birth mother might have counseled him on that habit. But the waterways that connected Ancien Vegas to the Utah canyonlands always took the strangest turns. Louisa recognized the grin on Captain Lee’s face. She saw herself in his face. It was her own.
There was more: with the yellow sash around his neck, held together by a golden broche with the arms-and-pyramids of Vegas, Louisa wondered, again. Is there this where she got her style, too? She had always dressed queer.
Shiloh distracted her from thoughts by the way he rubbed his wrists. This made her curious. Not as if he had worn any bonds. Nevertheless, he acted as if he been bound. Always the actor, he was definitely the strangest of her redeemers. To even consider that Shiloh was more of an actor than a player meant that the words from a dead man’s mouth -- R.P. Luke -- renewed their power. Shiloh Mackenzie, the ex-David and Vizier of the Imperium, had a special role to play. Or so said R.P. Luke, the Viscount of the Imperium.
The light of fires in the streets rose through the smashed out windows. Somewhere in the distance, the dance of plasma fire had begun. The big weapons were brought to bear. Catal Huyuk turned in their direction. He knew the calls of the big animals when he heard them. More plasma bolts rang off the sides of buildings, down streets. Louisa imagined the smaller animals. Those that scattered upon their sounds. Those that ran before them. To escape.
Captain Lee spoke now, while the eyes of his Formosan condottieri followed him, and Louisa struggled with parental guidance. Instead she looked at Shiloh, who wore a look of outrage. Silent, but in protest. A Wilhelm scream came from a soundstage outside. Then she smelled the stink of an animal. And when it was feces, it was him -- the Monkey Messiah. They drank the kool-aid.
-Isn’t this what you’ve been advising the Empress? To water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants?-
Shiloh finished the proverbial rubbing of his wrists.
-I meant that in theory. Theory, man! Now there’s smoke of the water, fire in the sky. Can't say I asked for those omens!-
Louisa broke through his wordplay, the neo-cola classicism not entirely lost on her. Before her present life as a minstrel to the Empress, another life existed. Almost simultaneously. As if her one-time gig as a slave had never ended. She was still there now. On the cusp of freedom. Looking down on the dead body of King Billy Bob XIII. Looking down on the Earth, three hundred and a quarter score high, in orbit. American miles.
Another weakass American revolution slumped its terrible way.
They rose from the estate, and soundlessly, they reached the top of thunderclouds, before exploding. Down rode their devastation. And so we buried her. Our secret for all time. Until now.
The children of the Amish Dawn set the plates of food upon the blankets. A wind rose from the fallen sun. Mottled clouds held together the last of the light. Orange patches against the quickening blacks transformed from blues and grays. The gray globe of the ancient satellite rose against the fall of the sky’s parchment -- and Louisa felt sick.
She had eaten the fruits from the rotten crabapple tree, its low-hanging branches clung to the ground, as if to pry the tombs of the dead from their slumber. The graveyard sure seemed a strange place to eat. More so, to hang out in. But they had, they did. And why not, the kids said? Where else to sit, but in the shadow of a statue. A memorial of a fallen star.
She came all the way from the darkest heavens. Bearing a message of ill omens.
Louisa wondered when the dinner would end, and when it did, the kids took her hand and led her into the woods. Cold. Mist rose from the ground. Here, it seemed darker. It was, she told herself. And there, from out of the dead growth of gray colors, a shape rose from the damp earth. Almost as if they came shrouded in rags of earth, they stood up and, hunched over the ground. Louisa's breath hung in the air. The shape waited, then leaned against a rotten gravestone.
Louisa swore the gray-scaled woman was dead. Her eyes were black. Lifeless. But Louisa knew. This person walked the earth, just like her. Yet so different...
Louisa looked around. The kids fanned out behind Louisa.
She ate the apples.
The crone smiled. She pointed at Louisa, who shivered.
Come, hear: portents identical that had her ancestors in graves, crushed beneath nuclear spades.
Louisa listened, as the ancient satellite rose in the sky, and its light shone through the bare fingers of the trees. Her face was lit by the old. And she heard, she listened. Eventually she obeyed. Then she left the woods. Before she did so, towards the lights of the two skyscrapers in front of her, she looked behind her. There stood the statue of a dead astronaut. She had died generations ago. Right here, she had crashed. Her life had expired, and the Amish buried her. In secret.
Yet more was buried here. And that, Louisa did not understand.
The fires of low intensity combat burned their own way. Flickers of illumination danced off the civil service walls and, when the yellow and orange fingers touched their surfaces, the herds of human tumult were wrought in a stampede of languages. Demands of the partisan camps. Yankees die! No matter if someone was a socialist, abolitionist or Mormon—freedom! The promises of death. Protection. Regrets that they only had one life to give. They were Americans, right?
Louisa watched Shiloh look over the shibboleth of partisanship, and a fear broke over his emerald eyes and fiery red locks.
-The words of the Empress grow stranger by the day….-
Louisa strained to see through the gloomy fall of the civic halls of Kansas. To see what Shiloh meant. The writing scrawled on the walls was defiant and angry. She knew there might be hope there too. Perhaps the screech in Jeff Davis’s voice could be of service.
-The people want their freedom from the tyrant! And they will get it, by hook and crook, if need be!-
Shiloh heard Jeffrey, and he sensed the dread of the future.
-It’s her new words that intrigue me, when what she said never interested anyone before. These words, though, were given to her by her captors. She is following a script. Thats weird, and so un-Kirsten-like. The masses only listen to the image. That is as real as things get. Yet now they turn to her words. When have Americans ever cared about words? Yet its there in her words, the very message of a plot to sell our world.-
Louisa saw a flash of lightning in her mind. She felt frantic. When would Shiloh awaken and help guide the world-state through the bleak chaos of images? The media and its confused messages.
Then came the matter of her father. He confused her too, this time with his announcement of arrival of another guest. She ignored the fucker and failed to hear him. But she could hear the Monkey Messiah clearly.
-Where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound, save his own dashings -- yet the dead are there!-
When the Monkey Messiah recited the giants of the past, most people paid attention. So Louisa did now. For she should have known that out of the shadows walked another of their number. Maybe Captain Moroni had not abandoned her? At least in some form.
Captain Oregenamen walked like a sentinel out of the shadows. She greeted him with a smile, and for some, such as Catal Huyuk, bigger and brighter smiles broke out over faces. In Kansas, where smiles were wrought from rebellion, now joy appeared. Even Louisa's father was caught up in the emotion. So glad they acted to see a friendly face.
-Well hello, there, tall, dark and handsome.-
Louisa had always thought Anacreon dashed where he did not even mean to. He did now, though she could tell the bottle had gotten an early hold on him. Yet it was late in the day, so, miracles never ceased, even if early drunkenness had roiled the turbulence of his already wavy hair. His blue-gray eyes looked over their group, hostages and abductors alike -- and a smile curled off his lips. Smoke from a cigar wreathed his face. An angel in the light of the western sun. Pacific in his demeanor, maybe. Definitely California dreaming.
-You all look like you're feeling Minnesota. Where's the funeral?-
Catal Huyuk clasped his hand. She would have run to his side, if not for her father. She wanted nothing more than her own distance from his paternity. Why would anyone expect any difference now?
She saw other things. Through Jeff Davis's incomprehension for the moment, there was Shiloh. Anacreon matched his stare with stoniness.
-Ah, into the inexorable darkness, where only the fate of man might go...-
-With no woman to stop him.-
-Your words buddy.-
Anacreon took a step forward and swung. Shiloh ducked. Anacreon pulled up and laughed. He faked. For once the Texian actor was bested. Some might have said by the worst wordsmith in the Americas. Louisa knew though, and believed with all her heart. Like her, Anacreon had the poet's heart.
-Good to see you!-
He grabbed Shiloh, who nearly wilted. Was this guilt?
-Is that any way to greet the guy who's here to get you to the party on time?-
Catal Huyuk held up.
Anacreon bore them all to what he knew, and he turned his head wide to look at them all. The Monkey Messiah caught his look. Anacreon nodded.
-I've found fate.-
-The blind worm, itself?-
-This ain’t no nation.-
Catal Huyuk noticed Louisa's glee. Anacreon noticed the dark warrior.
-Time to see your girlfriend pal.-
Jeff Davis smiled snot. Shiloh must have caught it. The flu.
-The gang's getting all together.-
Louisa imagined a happy place, and when she did, she saw the Viscount in his lair. The liar. The smile on his red-stained lips, his lips, and the trap of his mouth. Snapping closed.
The kids led her across the fields of former fires. She remembered coming this way before. Of course she had seen the devastation from the air. A rider on the airship of her Empress. The Star of the West.
The kids led her across the fields of former fires. She remembered coming this way before. Of course she had seen the devastation from the air. A rider on the airship of her Empress. The Star of the West.
Here though, on the ground, she could see the upturned landscape of earth. She could walk through the craters. The obstacles she encountered were battered tanks and wasted artillery. Every now and then, the ruins of human remains.
The Cobra Warlord had been busy.
The biggest of the Amish children smiled a big grin, and for half a second, Louisa thought of Janus. It was the countryside she saw in the gestures of the children, AKA, the children of the children who had revived the Old USA. Why should she think of Janus though? Did she dream of the dead? Was the brave pagan soldier even alive? The last time she had seen Janus, Sergeant-at-Arms of the Regency, ranks of Cux-aders had closed around her, and with weapons, cut her down. R.P. Luke had told Louisa little about Janus’. Well, that crypticness better explained the dirty old man…
She remembered the words of the Crabapple Lady. How generations ago, missiles filled the skies, and in their seemingly infinite number, brought down a spaceship from another world. Out of that wreckage, they pulled out a woman.
Yet Louisa felt like she did not care. She only wanted to see her friends again. Was this the way? Across the fields. And to where?
A barn raising.
The Amish kids crossed against the grain of a onetime battlefield, while the grim visage of the Twin Towers failed to recede on the horizon. Almost as if they had never moved. But such was the trick of light that the young Viscount had used when he built the skyscrapers. A resurrection of past technology by any other name. But the children of the Amish Dawn did, in fact, take Louisa elsewhere. And, as Lousia and her host abandoned the field of battle, the killing fields transformed into pastures, though vacated of cloven-hoofed livestock for centuries. Wood fences, painted red and green, the young adventurers now had to climb. Cross-stitched repetitively across the land, the country caravan crawled and jumped over the fencelands, while the only sound came from a nearby storm. Sarah...Sarah. There were locust storms brewing in your eyes, again.
An assassins moon…
The memory of a crone’s retch.
Louisa tumbled over the fence and landed square on her butt, and as she did, she imagined the Lady of the Crabapples, and her words. An assassin moon. What did she mean?
In the hour of their walk across the soggy pastures, the moon of the ancients served as their guide, with light aplenty to guide their way. Louisa though it a gray light. She had grown accustomed to it. The sight of a wounded globe in the heavens did not give her pause, except in its beauty. And unless anyone could say they had actually seen Luna light up the canyons and mesas of the Utah desert, they'd never really experienced the full potential of a moon’s beauty. The true beauty. The light that shamed Ohio's muted night sky now.
Nights had changed on Earth ever since the arrival of Ceres. Two long years ago. And now, Louisa waited, as most had grown to expect. The second moon would come over the horizon. Each time bigger and brighter than the next. The old nocturne was gone. In its place, more light -- double the shadows.
Louisa looked to the horizon for the expectant glow of Ceres-rise. She thought she might have seen it. But not sure. She wished for Janus' knowledge. More than that, Louisa wished for the Sergeant-at-Arms. She needed backup.
What did the crone mean by an assassin's moon?
For the moment the sky was ancient. While muggy clouds blanketed the stars and their sea of black, Luna fought through its obstacles, and the kids brought Louisa into a thick part of woods. A black forest, as far as she could see. The light seemed to end there. They entered. The woods went quiet. Soon the biggest Amish kid spoke up. The Cobra Warlord. He wanted to talk about R.P. Luke, the lord of his demesne. Louisa recognized the deference in his voice, the way he talked about the Viscount. So, he described, the rise of the Twin Towers, how the countryside turned their eyes to the horizon and, as the skyscrapers rose impossibly into the sky, how the R.P. Luke's had conjured the power to accomplish this feat. Where had he resurrected this technology?
Protestations -- apparently their grandfathers had told them a lot. That the Cobra Warlord himself, Robert Paul Luke, found the technology from the Astronaut-Who-Fell-to-Earth. And with that, he prepared to make war.
Not much of a war, Louisa remembered. At least from what Ewarian had told her. The original. The historian. With the use of the classical term.
Nearby, Ewarian the clone bumped into a tree. Louisa saw the rust that dusted his hair. She shook it out. More like tousled it. She thought about Ewarian. She had grown to like him. Wel, maybe. She had been taught to fear clones. Her southern brethren did, and had, since the schism from Great Adventium. The Prince named Paris, and all those terrible things that flew into the sky and left as Lords-of-this-World. No neo-cola classicism intended. Yet Shiloh would have said it so.
With a former intention to talk, she lost it. Just like Ewarian's way. So, with that, she thought. The smell of moldy vegetation accompanied her associations. The wind could not break the black forest. But it had then. With the Lady of the Crabapples. A wind cooled by the earth. It had broken through the bare branches. When it had, the words of the crone hung on the end of a rope. Tied to a broken branch. Yet, try as she might to remember, Louisa only saw the woman. The decay of the rags she wore, they hung heavy on her back. Impossibly, the wind lifted them into the air.
The Earth never needed a second moon. It should have begun to die when it had. The moon was never meant to be with us forever. Technology cheated separation.
The press of pilgrims went into its second hour, and still, the anticipated arrivals made no appearance, nor had they even hinted of their coming, since the first of the crowds gathered in Alliance Square.
Anacreon pulled the mono-culator away from one of his eyes. The good one, Louisa guessed. The other one? He kept that on some other prize, maybe. For now, they endured the madness of the crowd. The psychology. Anxious. No one quite willing to do the same thing. But the beat of the drummer that one heard was not at all that different from someone else's. And for that, Louisa trembled inside. Given what the mass of pilgrims might do, given what they had already done--partisan warfare in the streets of the Palace--who knew what irrationality lurked beneath the surface of this congregation. Definitely.
She sat on Catal Huyuk's wide shoulders. There she could safely survey the sea of bodies. They moved in different directions. Silvery. The light of gas lamps gleamed off their slippery flesh. Fish in the timeless sea of emotions. How they sparkled. So too did the artificial borealis overhead. Yet, even with its fluorocarbon yellows, oranges and red -- not like this. Not so violent, no. Louisa might think they all moved differently. But that was a trick of light. They had one thought tonight.
Alliance Square had taken on another life, one Louisa had never seen before. Even from the heights of Pottawatomie. All cities looked the same to her. Even the Palace. Whatever the name. Palace of Palaces. Bureaucratic seat. The Chamber of Commerce. Those names had ever made any impression on her. She should know. At the side of the newly crowned Empress Kir-sten'ya, her eyes fell upon the Palace before any one else's did. Even then, she had felt the same as she had many other times. Her first city? The one she could not forget? The city of her abductors, and where, they had taken her before. The Waterloo-court of the Godstate of Texas. That was her first city.
She didn't have that impression tonight.
Louisa patted Catal Huyuk's head.
-I can't see much from here. I can't see Shiloh.-
She felt a sway go through the crowd. A ripple of excitement.
-There's your answer.-
Not much of an answer. She squinted her eyes. Nothing. Not Shiloh. But he was there. With Jeff Davis and his thugs. And for what? He wouldn't say. But she had an idea, and she knew so many things could go wrong. The violence of the crowd made for a third player. The crowd the most uncontrollable of them all.
She looked for support. Her kinsman had her back. Anacreon. Might he lend his voice, though she be mute?
-What will Shiloh do when he's down there?-
For a second, she felt nervous and sounded, so, in answer to Anacreon's question. Her own voice, a flute. Against the fiery night of bonfires and sweat, she piped in and added her own voice.
-He's going to meet with Janus.-
Anacreon joined Catal Huyuk. Heads turned in unison, faces twisted in surprise. High against the light of the aurora artificialis, she shrugged. Anacreon laughed.
-She's going to love that.-
Now Catal Huyuk.
-Not as much as Hessia.-
-What's this all about anyways?-
Louisa wished she could explain. She could actually. But it meant betrayal. It also meant the upset of the natural forces in their universe. Friends questioned, all that shit. She wasn't quite ready for that. No, she had to play dumb.
-Shiloh is leading the Sheriff to his prize.-
-Which is what?-
That question came from both of them.
-You'll have to see it to understand.-
Anacreon struggled against the railing of the balcony.
-Why do you understand so much?-
Louisa knew, at this moment, she might have to say more than she should. But that might be exactly what she had to do.
The drapes on the back of the balcony opened up. Great. Her father. Mr. Lee. With friends. Demi-Corps. The black-hooded troops stood behind him, and he approached. With a weak smile for her, an estranged daughter, no less. He quickly broke out with a more genuine look. Asshole.
-Are these the best seats you could find?-
The dark warrior winced.
Mr. Lee pointed behind him.
-You all must see this.-
Louisa realized things now moved faster than she ever thought possible. And Anacreon -- none of them -- had no idea.
Technology is backwards, Louisa repeated something she’d heard Janus say. Many a times. She made understood it now.
The black forest opened up. Before them lay an open field. Thorny bushes smothered rotten fences, and they walked around them. They did for a longer time than any of them might have wanted to. Their line of travel thinned out. Some lagged behind, most notably Ewarian. With a whistle, Louisa regained his attention, and he hurried to her side. The wall of overgrowth stopped, they went around where it terminated, and their, as expected, bubbled another watery brook. The moon bounced of a placid pool, and like the murky sky, opaque scum choked it. The moon fell behind a cloud. And Louisa pulled off some kind of insect attached to her neck, threw it into the scummy water. The impact rippled and, in the separation of water, the reflection of the Ohioan sky was snuffed out.
When, after a while, they crossed the far expanse of the hill, a barn arose from the land. Louisa caught its darkened profile in the distant backlight of the Twin Towers. But it was the moon's victory over the overcast sky that pulled back the curtains that obscured its light, which shone down upon the land below, and revealed the crowds of people who stood around the building.
Louisa heard the songs on the cold air. They waited. The music greeted them first. The people. The parents of the kids, but, much alike them, the children of the Amish Dawn. Like they had raised the Old USA from the ground up, they meant to raise a barn. Louisa saw the boards and rafters of different lengths and sizes, and she knew. She knew. When she heard work songs, she knew better. They sang. The kids brought her forward.
A man in a large brimmed hat greeted them. He lifted it from his head. Cold blue eyes stared at Louisa. Short silver hair gleamed as his earrings did. A grin of blood red lips.
She balled her fists up to attack R.P. Luke.
Louisa nearly had her head knocked off when Catal Huyuk walked through the portal. She had to bend down.
They climbed down from the balcony. Mr. Lee, the proverbial father, and the Demi-Corps. Both lit the way. Stairs and gun smoke, hung in the air. And a mess. It seemed worse than when the had first encountered it. They still could trip, and she hoped her kinsman was careful. Even up here, and time spent since, the smoke still hung heavy in the air. The carpets were soaked. Wet. More with blood. Was this the orientalism most deriders of the Empress spoke of? She looked at the carpets again. Through the blood she could make out the designs, yet she still saw nothing that hinted at the monarchianism of the place. But what did she know? Her home of Greater Adventium was steeped in the shit.
Plasma marks decorated the walls of the room. Frescoes of past violence. Just a few hours old, too. She took one last look, for no one meant to stop. Here and there, a few splattered and torn bodies of the fallen -- and they left. The combatants had left for the Plaza of the Alliance. The victors. They would address the crowds of pilgrims. They had an Empress to win, and a world to save.
Mr. Lee took the way less expected. Through the night of the long knives. Through the mess hall, the kitchens, since turned over by looters. Louisa had half a mind to ask her father to pull over for a bite to eat. But she didn't care for the asshole. They made a quick tour of the ruins of overturned tables. A few spots of blood, someone had even lost their hair. They moved on.
The clamor of Alliance Square greeted her with the bang of fists and gnashing teeth. A look through the doors told her they had one hand, all the better to smash the state, and one hungry mouth, ready to devour them all. For now partisan warfare took a break. The respite now meant inaction. And apparently some of Louisa's past number possessed the inclination to do something about that. And...and...
Would it happen?
Her father led Anacreon, and all the rest of them, through the layers of the crowd. Each one different from the next. All a different migration. The grainy sands of the Exoduster Desert accompanied their dirty feet and filthy faces. But the great unwashed brought more than their hunger. They eat the rich, because they're poor. They had the smell of foods of the Americas. Every border they crossed, Louisa could smell it. Smoke and fire, baby. The exchange of recipes? More than the whetting of the appetite, which made her mouth water. She heard the melodious tongues. She struggled to get through their speech, to understand. But she heard one narrative. Violence. Steeped in blood, strained tones. There lay the struggle of the lands beyond Kansas. There lay their regeneration, even with the end to come at the end of their journey. Reinvention. Each past meant traveling down a road feeling bad. Now they formed up lines. In wait. To see where they stood in the great struggle. What would it sound like? How might the rarified air smell taste in their nostrils?
She passed them. Maybe alone. She could ignore the father, and pretend that, above the crowds, perched on the shoulders of her kinsman, she saw what no other could. That the crowd might see themselves as divisible. They might fly the colors. But they now listened to something. She looked to where many now walked. Their eyes betrayed them.
Mr. Lee did too.
Louisa bent down towards Catal Huyuk's ear.
-I don't like this!-
Anacreon must have heard her. Or something. The murmur? It didn't have to be hers. The crowd had begun to do that. A whisper, at first. Then, shouts. Anacreon looked back at Catal Huyuk. He readied to say something. But it all was lost. A voice broke over the crowd, amplified by loud speakers. Louisa turned to look. The voice sounded familiar. She peered over the crests of the crowd, and there, speaking to the masses. Shiloh.
And behind him, he saw new faces. Her friends. The crowd began to chant the names. The crowd began to stomp their feet. Single voices turned into a single mighty yell. Rage and joy caught in their throats. The multitude had gone to clear their throats. And they spat out -- no, they belched upon the sands of Kansas -- the two biggest heroes of the battle that made an Empress.
It was almost as if a statue had come to life. For Louisa, it had. No, the crowd saw it too. They lived in a dream now. One of liberty. They had looked on the statue of the crouched figures. Soldier and warrior, alike. But now, the moment had come true. As the statue stood in the middle of the square, they became the center from which all turned.
And her friends came at Shiloh with weapons bared.
The crowd screamed bloody murder.
Shots tore up the crowd. Single plasma bolts at first. She could see energetic fire make imperfect holes. First through clothes, then, flesh. Splatters of red flew through the air. Like confetti. Clothes turned crimson and bodies tumbled. They may not have died at that instant. The stampede of the crowd finished them.
Where were the shots coming from? In the square, sounds echoed. They could have come from any direction. She ran behind Catal Huyuk. He ran behind a part of the crowd that opened up for him. He exploited the hole opened up by the crowd, and she followed. She had to. She saw that Anacreon did too. Her father? Well, she finally cared and saw where he turned to. The direction of the shots soon became known. All at once, they took out their weapons and met the challenge. She could see them now. Men dressed like pilgrims. Their weapons rattled off a series of shots. Lazerkrieg. The could fire at will repeatedly. And they did. Catal Huyuk pulled her down. Anacreon jumped up, and so did Catal Huyuk. Now, he slung his electro-atlatl from his shoulder, grabbed the bandoleer around his chest, and pumped a clip of ammunition. In seconds, he had off rounds of small knives. They buried themselves into the attackers. Some fell. But they continued to assault. The lazerkrieg was too much. Catal Huyuk backed up, and Anacreon grabbed her, pulled her up from the ground. She turned around.
The crowd began to scream. Lazerkrieg danced around the podium. It silhouetted Shiloh. He stood there. Frozen. Or so she thought. She saw him look at the crowd. Searching. He stopped. He had made eye contact with her. A smile broke over her face. She wondered why, then came the realization. He smiled too. A shadow walked out from behind him. Jeff Davis. A wall of men formed around him. But before it did, she could see his lips move. Jeff Davis took him by the shoulders, and the Carthage Grays fired plasma shots into the crowd. Lazerkrieg followed their targets. Shiloh disappeared into the fire, the screams, the whirlwind of chaos.
An explosion ripped her from her feet, and she flew. Tossed her into the crowd. Such a doll, her mothers would have said. Her head smacked against the pavement. Good American concrete. Her last thought was of R.P. Luke. Then, everything went weird. And silent. She tried to make sense of it, but could not. It just got weirder. Just when she thought she could overcome the strange feeling, she didn't remember anything. Anymore.
Louisa wasn't sure of anything. So she took a sip of blue liquid. It was sweet and syrupy. An ill feeling took over her. R.P. Luke called to her.
-You see, my dear desert princess...-
She was sure now. She felt ill.
-Don't call me that!-
He smiled, his lips blue.
-And what does it make you think of?-
She didn't want to say. A smell came to her. A stink. It lingered with her, stuck to her. She might try, but she could never wash it out. She might try to say she didn't care. But she did, though. Things seemed so confusing. Because they were. Yet she didn't dare say. Who knew where the Cobra Warlord might go with this?
He held up a bone. She could see the fake shine of plastic. Such a strange world. One where the living danced with death. The busts of famous Commonrealm Era at the back of the dinning room stared at her through the gloom. Empty sockets. a world beyond her reach. She wondered how many times the Cobra Warlord, and his ancestors before him, had stood here. To look out over their demesne. To wonder. What had they thought about?
-I think...sometimes...but now, more often than I ever did before, how you might be the most important player in this drama.-
-How is that possible?-
-You shouldn't undervalue yourself. You were there from the beginning...-
-You said that already.-
-You haven't been listening. Don't be so selfish, and self-help. It's not just you who knows you were there.-
That gave her pause. Everyone did know. She had been there from the beginning. Images didn't lie. Everyone. They knew that. If they wanted to relive the moment when Billy Bob XIII nearly beat her to death, they could. Did they know how he had meant to rile the anger of Lady Kir-sten'ya? No. But they knew he'd succeeded. Images didn't lie.
R.P. Luke did.
-I need your help. You're the only one who can help me.-
-Get our wayward Vizier to perform his biological function.-
But she wasn't sure she understood what she said.
-He's busier trying to be a rockstar. That's what he's trying to do.-
That made more sense. He was. That, and his stupid movie. Before Shiloh left the Palace and Sea of Kansas, he'd asked her opinion. What should he name it? She still didn't have a clue. Did R.P. Luke had an idea? She decided to ask.
-You're wrong. Shiloh wants to finish his movie.-
Now R.P. Luke looked surprise. When he put his spork on the plate, it clanged loudly off the plastic. A bug zapper exploded in some far off corner of the place. The patio perhaps.
-His movie? His movie....-
He thought about that for a moment. She let him. Then she waited.
-What is this movie called?-
-That's the problem. It's why he can't finish it.-
-Oh, I doubt that. Besides, if there are any heroics to take place, he's going to have to wait for them, so he can finish the movie. To come up with a title. However, the title for a movie, or any work or art for that matter, usually comes midway through the narrative.-
-I thought we were in the third act. He should’ve thought of it by now. So you’re story’s more full of shit.-
-Then you've been listening. Then listen to this, and maybe, when you see Shiloh, tell him to call his movie 'Doom.'-
-Doom. For that, Shiloh is far different than Janus...Hessia...and the gay sailor...-
-Yes, him. The one the Old Man spoke so much of. I always forget his name.-
No, she thought. You just want to be an asshole.
-I'm leaving, and I'm taking Ewarian!-
She got up. He leaned back in his chair. With his arms behind his head, what an asshole!
-Southcross was in that same exact spot when she walked out. She failed to see what Hessia fails to see. And Anacreon. All of them don't get it. But Shiloh always has. Yet he ignores it.-
She turned to leave. To give him one chance.
-Shiloh knows we're all doomed. He knows we have no chance. But what he doesn't know is what the word 'Doom' means.-
-Which is what?-
-Decision. He must make a decision.-
She made her own and turned to leave. Back to the Star of the West. The airship that would take her back to the Sea of Kansas and the Palace of Kir-sten'ya. Out of Ohio.
A mumble. She heard a mumble. Something about a better mousetrap. She wondered what he used for bait.