Demon Run - A Canon of the Possessed

R. Earle Harris


Copyright Notice

Demon Run - A Canon of the Possessed is copyrighted 2001 by R. Earle Harris (rearleharris@tuxfamily.org)

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.


Dedication


For my son, Philip Emmanuel Harris.
For that interesting woman with all the glasses on the Caltrain.
For that man who became a woman so that he might be a lesbian.
For the LyX team, who made the open-source software I wrote this on.
And for the Cirque du Soleil's Quidam, whose dervish inspired this work.


The American Trilogy


For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face:
now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known.
--Paul of Tarsus, KJV: I Cor. 13:12


The Book of God

America only has three problems: God and sex and death. I can't fix our problems but I find them entertaining. This novel shows how entertaining the first problem is. This is not a religious novel. The only person who quotes the Bible in here is a curly-headed Islamic police detective--you will like him anyway. And God is in the details. So if you read quickly, enjoying the gratuitous violence, you won't notice Him at all. I apologize for the lack of gratuitous sex; I'm saving that for the next novel. The City is all of America's cities and none of them at all. I have pushed the City forty years into the future and made the police cars fly so that you can look into this dark mirror and say, "That's not me."


The Curtain Rises::


Voices, voices. Hear my heart, as only
The holy heard the swell that lifted them, still kneeling,
From the ground. Impossibly,
It continued and they gave no notice;
So was their hearing. Not that you could endure
The voice of God, far from it. But hear the wailing,
The unbroken news, that builds in the silence.
It rushes from every still-warm corpse to you.
--Rainer Maria Rilke, Erste Duineser Elegie.


Adagio, con fuogo (Slowly, with fire)

 


Acciaccatura (A crushed dissonant note)


First Voice - Johnathon Zwilling

The light of dawn trickled through the upper stories of stone and steel. It flowed, faster than movement, between storied walls of glass. It lit the damp streets of morning from above, streets already flowing with early workers, with the light trucks that moved what passed for commerce over the broken pavings, with the silent electric buses full of those who did not have to go on foot, with the turning of the lingering dervishes left over from the night.

Now the light, too bright for the eye, spilled over buildings where the worn skyline of the City descended to the river. Its yellow beams ran through the grey, plastic sides of the bus stop, turning those waiting there a shade of warm grey, making them look both more and less alive than the walking that flowed past them. It was irrevocably morning.

Johnathon Zwilling groaned under his breath as the yellow-grey light washed over him, like a premonition of fresh death, and turned away to cool his face in shadow.

"I heard that," said a man next to him, in a long, green, plastic coat. "We gotta work. But we don't gotta like it."

The man was older than Zwilling, perhaps in his fifties. The front of his green coat said, "Dept. of Works." Johnathon, moved by unthinking politeness, turned to face him hoping that acknowledging a stranger would not be a mistake.

The man acknowledged his audience in return: "You grow up thinking life will be like the movies. Stuff will happen. Turns out you spend your life outside the theater, waiting in line."

"Maybe when we die the show will start."

Dept. of Works raised his greying eyebrows dramatically, "You religious?"

Johnathon's purple jacket crinkled loudly as he unzipped it, the bus stop too warm in the sun. "My parents fiddled around with God when I was little. Back in the late nineties. But I've never been in a church."

Dept. of Works worked his eyebrows up a notch. "They never took you with them?"

"Didn't know if it would be good for me." Johnathon noticed a last dervish still turning and turning on the sidewalk nearby, creating an island of stillness in the flow of the morning's growing stream of pedestrians.

Dept. of Works grinned. "Smart parents. It's all superstition anyway." He nodded at the dervish. "Only people like that believe in gods nowadays."

Then he said, "Bus."

"Gods? Oh." Conversation over, Johnathon followed the man onto the bus. The dervish turned and turned--a prayer of protection. Islamic or something, Johnathon thought. Don't they have only one god?

-x-x-x-

Johnathon sat quietly on the bus which ran the way the sun did towards the east bank of the river. Business district. Everyone else on the bus was quiet too. Buses were for the law-abiding and the employed, the latter a subset of the former. A police car passed overhead running against the traffic. Disturbing the peace was taken very seriously these days. If you had a job in the City, you didn't risk disturbing it. You went quietly with the flow. Another police car passed leisurely over the bus. Not much crime in the daylight, not violent crime at least.

The bus passed into a darker part of town. Lots of buildings condemned; no more city here where entropy was victorious. Here the world had run down. Only a trickle of people on the sidewalks. There might be crime here in daylight--if a victim could be found. Sunlight was tainted as it passed through the upper stories of these empty glass towers, splashing the colors of the their tinted glass half-way down to the shadowed street. The bus ran through every intersection without stopping: through street in a dead zone. Down a side street, a dervish caught Johnathon's eye. The flaring swirl of his brown skirts stayed with Johnathon, a swirling after-image among the stagnant towering stones.

Johnathon felt comfortable in the City in spite of the slow creep of the ruins. The City felt old to him but not as if it were dying. Johnathon had a decent apartment, small like everyone else's--an unmarried allotment of space. He lived where there was running water. He was allowed 800 kilowatts of domestic electricity a month, enough to run his computer late into the night most nights--if he kept low-wattage bulbs in the lamps and turned them off early. He could afford the small bottles of propane that ran his stove. And the building management seemed able to keep the sewage flowing out of the building instead of into it, even now in the spring when the river ran high. He didn't expect life as he knew it to end anytime soon.

-x-x-x-

Johnathon heard the discordant squeal and grind of the bus coming to an emergency stop. He saw his own hand upon the emergency cord but he couldn't connect this fact with anything else. He couldn't feel his hand. Or the arm that went with it. Or the legs that struggled to keep him upright. He couldn't breathe as he moved down the darkening aisle. All he could feel was the panic that drove him off the bus and into the open air where he could breathe. Johnathon Zwilling was hurting now, not in his limbs, but in the center of himself.

He moved past Dept. of Works who turned away as if unwilling to acknowledge someone else's pain. Johnathon gasped and labored towards the mid-bus door which had opened as the bus had stopped. Passengers were settling back into their seats as they realized this was an emergency of one. The bus driver was calling the incident in, watching Johnathon struggle out, ready to resume his run. The driver closed the doors as soon as Johnathon was clear and the bus sped away with a hum and the rush of soft tires.

Johnathon did not notice the bus pull away. He was full of the erratic echoing of his heart. And of a singing screaming he thought must be his own. A small calm part of himself realized he had gotten off the bus in a dead zone and another layer of fear settled gently upon him. Now it was as if he had inhaled and couldn't exhale, as if he were full of too much used-up life and needed to expel it or burst. His chest was on fire and in the dark mirror of an emptied window he saw that his hands had gripped his shirt over his heart.

Must be a heart attack, the small calm part said.

Johnathon Zwilling began turning slowly in the darkened window. Bent in a collapsing S, he needed to fall down; he needed more light; he needed to keep moving. But no direction held any promise. He was unwilling to die in a dead zone, afraid something would happen to him here. As if it would matter. As if it could be worse than this. Through the narrowing darkness of his vision, he saw someone approaching at a run, wailing over and over, like an ambulance siren. But Sirens were women and this was a man in a long brown robe with broad, coarse skirts. He ran on white tennis shoes with big blue checkmarks. On his head was a brown cylinder of a felt hat. A dervish? A Siren? Why did he sound like a fire engine? It didn't matter. He was safe now. The dervish would protect him. That was part of their prayers.

-x-x-x-

The dervish stopped turning and walked gracefully away as the ambulance landed and its big door slid back. The two technicians moved to handle Johnathon Zwilling. One of them watched the dervish with disdain.

"Rag-head," he said.

"Is that racial prejudice or religious?" the second tech asked as if prejudice were against the law--which it was, for employment purposes.

"Sorry."

"Don't worry; I won't tell. You can buy breakfast. Anyway, they're not exactly Arabs; they're Sufis."

The first tech attached the ends of some cabled equipment to Johnathon Zwilling's chest.

The second technician looked calmly at the read-outs. "This one's worth saving," he said, both to his partner and into a microphone along his jaw that would let the hospital know to make room for one more in Incoming.

The first technician prepped Zwilling for stasis. "They're what kind of Arab again?"

"Sufis. Holy magicians. They believe all that spinning they do is a prayer that will save the world."

The first technician looked around as he worked on Johnathon's body. A few blocks away he could see where the dead zone ended and normal city life continued its churn and flow. But the blocks in between looked past saving. "I don't think their prayers are being answered. Clear." He moved back from the body.

"Who would answer them? Clear." The second technician stepped back as well and switched on the field that would stop time for the supine body inside it. Physically, the patient was safe until they took him out of stasis in the hospital. Johnathon Zwilling could live or die later.

-x-x-x-

Johnathon woke to darkness. He panicked a little and then saw there was a window and that it was night outside. Death wouldn't have windows, he thought. The chamber he was in was as wide as his bed and tall enough to sit up in. Which he wasn't about to do. His chest hurt too badly until he remembered how badly it had hurt on the empty sidewalk. Johnathon realized he felt much better and took a cautious breath. He touched his hands to his face as if to make sure the hands and face were his to control again. A nurse stuck her head in while he was doing this and then left before Johnathon could react. He smiled. The luxury of insured medical care. He noticed the sheets were clean.

Johnathon wondered how long he had been out of things. There had been some kind of dream. A very long dream of which all the details were now gone. He knew that the hospital would have ID'ed him and notified his employer. He hoped he would be up soon. The dream, he realized, had made him impatient. He had dreamed there was something he had to do. Something he had to choose to do and something that mattered. Johnathon tried to remember if there was anything important left undone at work. Most of what he did there as a sys-admin was fight tiny fires caused by users who believed themselves to be technically talented enough to do something they shouldn't. Like remove a file. Or change their mail settings. Then Johnathon had to go help them become productive again by salvaging whatever they had diddled with. Lusers.

There had been something he had to do--if he had chosen to do it. Something important that had to be done quickly. He thought about the dream, without remembering anything more, until the doctor appeared.

"You have had a heart attack. A special kind of heart attack."

"I couldn't breathe."

"Yes, you could," said the doctor, establishing his superiority. "Just not enough to matter to the rest of you."

"Was it serious?" Then he heard himself asking, even more stupidly, "Did I almost die?"

"Oh, no. You were fully alive when the ambulance found you. And you should have little to worry about in the future. As far as heart attacks, anyway." The doctor looked as if he wanted to be asked for an explanation. But Johnathon's chest hurt too much for him to feel accommodating. The doctor continued, "I said it was a special kind of heart attack. It isn't something we understand yet." As if someday they certainly would. Johnathon began to feel worse. "We know this kind of attack by the symptom it leaves behind."

"Symptom?"

"There is a faint echo to your heartbeat that was not there before. You can hear it yourself with a good stethoscope. But there is no damage done that hasn't been repaired by what we did in post-stasis. You can leave us in the morning. The nurse will return to explain your prescription." The doctor smiled as if he had preserved another life, and then turned to leave. He stopped at the door. "There is one thing you might do. One of the doctors here collects these cases of echoed heartbeats. From all over the world. May I tell her about yours?"

Johnathon tried to make sense of the question. And what about the word "collects?" He couldn't make sense of it but he still hurt enough to want whatever comfort medical science could give him.

He shook his head, Yes.

"You can still go home in the morning. Dr. Pardoner will call and set up a session with you as soon as she can."

"A session?"

"Oh, yes. Dr. Pardoner is a psychiatrist. The nurse will see that you have a good night's sleep," the doctor said, leaving a conversation he was tired of. The door closed politely by itself.

Johnathon wondered if he would bother with a psychiatrist. He wasn't crazy.

-x-x-x-

Johnathon Zwilling rode the bus home in the morning. And it was on the bus, with the newborn sunlight splashing across him where he sat, that the voice in his head began to speak to him.


Second voice - Dr. Michelle Pardoner

"Don't call me Mike."

"Everyone else does."

"I'm not marrying everyone else."

"Anyone."

"Anyone else. For now. If I actually go through with this." Her voice softened. "Everyone else has to call me Mike; you have to call me Michelle."

"Or Mitch?"

"Michelle." Dr. Michelle Pardoner ran a finger across the lips of the man beside her. Then she used the same finger to smooth his eyebrows. "And trim your eyebrows, Paul; they're out of control."

"It's a mid-life thing. Bushy eyebrows. Nose hair. This shrubbery in my ears. Why not 'Mike?"'

"Trim the eyebrows." She smoothed them again with her finger.

"I like calling you Mike. I called you Mike as late as last night and it didn't bother you. I think you're being a little contrary here." Paul got out of bed, wrapping himself in the blanket, leaving her only the sheet. He fluffed out his eyebrows for effect. "Or do I mean arbitrary."

"Contrary. I usually go by Mike, for professional reasons. Except here--with you. This is not professional." She leaned on her elbow and studied the way he had left his legs sticking out beneath the blanket. "I am contrary."

"Then you can forget the eyebrows." Paul ruffled them with his free hand and tried to make them stick out further.

Michelle watched the late morning light ebb and flow across Paul's bare legs as the wind stirred the short, heavy drapes.

And she said: "Then forget the eyebrows. I'm going to remain contrary. No man, expecially one with..."

"Chicken legs?"

Michelle laughed.

"So who was that on the phone who woke you so you could complain about my upper facial hair?"

"A man who had a heart attack yesterday." Michelle rose and wrapped herself in the sheet.

"You don't do heart attacks."

Michelle dodged the bar of sunlight on the floor and moved around Paul to the bathroom. "This morning he began hearing a voice in his head." She smiled sweetly and closed the door behind her. "I do voices in the head."

"Hey, that's our only bathroom. Hurry up in there."

"Cross your legs," came her answer through the door.

-x-x-x-

Michelle Pardoner decided to walk to her office rather than ride the bus. It was unusual for her to be out before evening and the late morning sun was like a balm. She pushed her sunglasses up onto her forehead where they pushed her regular glasses up even higher. Walking slowly in the sun, she held her face raised to catch its beams, closing her eyes for brief moments when the sidewalk was clear before her.

Normally, she worked evenings and into the night--as late as her patients needed her. Patients who could afford psychiatry had jobs. And no one would risk a job by making appointments to see her or anyone else in the daytime. She wondered about this Johnathon Zwilling who had been given her name because there was an echo to his heartbeat. And why he would skip work to see her.

Probably fear, she thought, from the sound of his voice.

She wondered why there was an extra h in his name. Probably named after someone. He sounded too educated to have come from parents who couldn't spell. She wondered if he would die like the others. And if he would be one of the violent ones.

I've never met a live one, she thought to herself. Michelle looked at her watch. Plenty of time.

The old brick and stone buildings were shorter in this part of the city and let the sun fall full on the street. Michelle stopped in a boarded-up doorway, flooded in light. In this niche, she closed her eyes and smiled up at the sun. A beautiful day. She always felt happy when she had time for sunlight. And hopeful. She opened her eyes and pulled her sunglasses down so she could clearly see the faces walking by.

Michelle loved this old part of the city where the buildings were on the scale of human beings and the streets wandered around past interesting storefronts instead of being long straight lines through towers of glass. The people were real here. Hassidic Jews. Cubans. Russians. The best farmer's market in the city. She looked at her watch again. Still time.

Michelle closed her eyes. In the red light that came through her eyelids, she thought about the bottom file drawer in her office: the echo files. Thin files for the ones whose hearts had burst. Thicker files for the ones who had heard voices as well. Really thick files, with police reports and postmortems, for the few who had turned violent. She opened her eyes and swapped out her glasses.

Time to meet my first live one.

-x-x-x-

Michelle sat in her office on the fifth floor of this building that smelled of wood and linoleum as the promise of evening softened the light of late afternoon. Johnathon Zwilling had stood her up. She would rather have stayed in bed with Paul. Her regular early evening appointment had canceled and she could have stayed home. And Paul, being unemployed, could have stayed home. She hoped he was painting again. She liked coming home to the fresh canvasses and the rainbow smears of paint on his jeans.

She pushed her reading glasses up on her forehead which pushed her normal glasses farther up. And made the sunglasses fall out of her hair. She twisted to catch them. Failed. Kicked them gently across the floor. Imitation pique. Johnathon Zwilling had stood her up.

Covering her desk were the echo files. Every case in front of her had had a heart attack. After the heart attack, every case in front of her had had a curious audible echo to his or her heartbeat. Every case in front of her was dead, dead within four days of the attack. And they had all died of a violent heart attack that literally tore the heart apart--except those the police had killed.

The second heart attack always came four days after the first. In the few cases where the patient had been under medical attention for the intervening days, there had been no obvious deterioration of the heart that would explain its complete destruction. All had been adults. All had been in good health before the first attack. About a third of them had admitted to hearing voices in their heads. No, not voices; a voice. But none of them would say what the voice said. And now they were dead.

Michelle got up and retrieved her sunglasses. She stuck them up above the other two pairs on her head. The light on her face was reflected in the large window before her. Michelle studied her face for a moment in the window. Still athletic-looking, if that made any sense for a face. Still serious. She pursed her lips. Opened her light blue eyes wide. And here's one for you, Mr. Johnathon Zwilling with the extra "h." She blew a raspberry with her lips. Mick Jagger lips. He was dead now, too, of old age. Although Keith Richards was still around, impossibly old. Michelle wondered if the lead singer of the Rolling Stones could have swallowed his fist like she could. A useless, if slightly erotic, skill. Paul's words. Paul refused to paint her portrait, afraid to steal her soul. Too bad. She would like to see what her lips looked like to Paul.

Beyond her face in the glass, the wind ruffled the leaves of a tree that was too close to the building. In a strong wind, it banged on the glass. Once during a storm full of lightning and dark-grey light it had broken the window letting the rain pour in. Now it just fluttered the whitish underside of its leaves into view. She thought of silent bells. She thought of the echo cases the police had terminated. Only one of these was known to have heard a voice. The voice. A voice. She pressed her forehead to the glass. The long light was warm; the glass was cool. Her sunglasses felt precarious. She left them alone. The police had terminated three cases. The violent cases. But not a violence that had a victim. A violence that had been a response. That was what interested her. Michelle cooled her nose on the glass. She was too high up for anyone to see her flat nose. Too bad. What interested her was that the violence had come about when these echo cases had been interfered with. And there were the last words of the case that had both been violent and heard the voice: "I did all I could. I did all I could." The ambulance technicians had taped it before they froze him. But the patient had died immediately out of stasis. Police weapons make big holes. No one knew what the man had been trying to do, what he had left unfinished.

-x-x-x-

Michelle Pardoner left her office on the cusp of evening. She had thought about calling Johnathon Zwilling at his home. The number was accessible and she had toyed with clicking on the dial-icon.

Not very professional: "You seem to have decided you don't need my help; but as a psychiatric professional I would like to push my help on you anyway--for my usual fee."

As she had put away the echo files, the thick files had made her think of calling the police. They could put Johnathon under observation--not very professional. And what if they interfered with him? She had decided to go home and talk to Paul about it. Not that she needed advice. But Paul would think of one or two or several things that would never occur to her because his mind seemed to run sideways through the world. And that was one of the good reasons to be with Paul.

When she left her office, the sunlight still came over the rooftops but did not reach the streets. As she started home, her thighs were in shadow. And as she walked, thinking about Paul and Johnathon Zwilling, she would look down to see how the shadow was rising upon her. She thought she could get home before the shadow reached her heart, if she hurried.


Third voice - Norbert Hassen

"We don't get many calls for there, man. About the only thing open in that part of the city is the cathedral, you know." The cabbie watched his passenger in the mirror. He wondered if the passenger ever blinked. Must blink when I ain't looking, the cabbie thought. "You going to church?"

Norbert Hassen had no intention of telling this cab driver where he was going: "No." He saw the driver watching him in the mirror and remembered to blink.

The cab driver turned away and paid more attention to his driving. "Most people take the bus."

They always notice the blinking, Norbert thought. I don't see why they notice. Plenty of people don't blink. Half the politicians on television don't blink. Makes you wonder.

Norbert looked out the side window of the high-speed taxi as it flew over the City. The street below was almost dark. Daylight was leaking out of the western sky and soon only the high empty darkness would be left.

Norbert Hassen blinked again.

The taxi accelerated as the driver turned it over to the control of the guided express lane. Outbound taxis flashed by overhead. Below them and above the street, police cars patrolled the emergency lane. Seeing the police cars, Norbert moved away from the windows. But he knew that wouldn't help--not if they were looking for him.

-x-x-x-

The taxi landed in the dark blue, near-light of dusk. Norbert stuck his credit card in the door and the car let him out. The only light on the ground here came from the cathedral which rose in a glow of soft light above the brownstone houses where the cab had landed.

The cab driver turned in his seat. "You sure you don't want me to take you all the way to the church?"

Norbert shut the door on him and started to walk away. He heard the car window opening behind him with a hum. What did the driver want now? A picture?

"If you stay late, don't try walking out of here. It's a dead zone any way you go. It wouldn't be safe for someone like you."

Norbert kept walking.

"The buses stop running at nine." The cabbie was not giving up. "You want my card?"

Norbert Hassen stopped. He stood there in his dark slick-fabric business suit. He thought about going back and pulling the cabdriver out his window, stuffing him into the trunk, and parking the cab where it wouldn't be seen from overhead. He thought of even more permanent ways of being sure he was not remembered here. The street was empty. The old houses standing shoulder to shoulder were dark and empty. Norbert was empty, too; he walked back to the cab.

"Sure, I'll take your card." He took the driver's card. "Thanks."

"I work all night," said the cabbie. "Call me."

Norbert stepped back as the taxi lifted and flew away. As he turned toward the cathedral, the card fell from his hand un-looked-at. It lay on the ground, a barely visible white rectangle on the dark asphalt.

-x-x-x-

To cover the final two blocks to the cathedral, Norbert Hassen circled the grounds of the great church. He walked slowly; he did not want any surprises. There was little chance that the police would be looking for him in particular. But they could be looking in general and that would be just as bad.

Norbert stood in the shadow of a dark storefront across from the cathedral and waited without moving. Rubble seemed to leak out of the decaying building around Norbert's feet. Bits of broken glass almost caught the faint glow of the church. He had seen two police cars overhead since he had left the taxi. But there was no sign that they were looking for anything. Night had fallen and the cathedral stood in its own poor light, its tiled and sculpted heights surrounded by skirts of dark stone that trailed out into enclosed gardens and low dormitories. The church was senile but still alive. Many-colored light rose into the sky from the clerestory, the clear story of colored glass above the arches and pillars. Pale golden light spilled out of all the other church windows he could see. Buses, three of them, idled just around the corner of a side street where Norbert could see them. Three busloads of believers. Hard to believe.

Norbert wondered if this were some kind of religious high holy day. But he wasn't interested enough to look it up. Satisfied with his own safety, he crossed the street and entered the church.

-x-x-x-

Norbert closed his eyes as the organ music rolled over him. It was part of an oratorio by Bach. Now the choir filled the air with Bach's German. Standing at the back of the cathedral behind the last pews of the nave, Norbert knew that he had come here to meet someone and that he should go sit in the appointed pew and hold the newspaper that was in his hand just so. But he would wait for this ecumenical passage of audible light to finish. He put the newspaper in his pocket. He had no patience for this sneaking around in the first place. Entering the music, he followed the ascending staircase of voices into the high bright place of echoes they created.

Too bad the Catholics don't have organs, he thought.

As the priest began to speak, Norbert opened his eyes and walked slowly down the aisle to the pew he had been told to find. He sat down and from the hip pocket of his suit coat removed a newspaper that had been folded in a particular way. Feeling as if he were playing a child's game, he held the paper in his lap. Then he studied the other people who had come to church for motives more religious than his own. The priest was chanting part of the mass and in Latin. Norbert enjoyed the sound of the Latin. He could understand it if he wished but did not bother with that for now. Instead, he listened to the way each Latin word was released well-rounded into the air: Petrus. Domine. Autem.

The cathedral was by no means full. Not counting the balconies, it could easily hold ten or more busloads of people. He doubted if the believers sitting here could fill two of the buses outside. Still, he was surprised to find this many people here at all. He had thought that the remaining churches were kept open out of pious nostalgia and had thought to find no more than a couple of old Italian-looking women in the pews, fingering their prayer beads. Rosaries.

A young man stopped at the end of Norbert's row of pews and seemed to look at Norbert's folded newspaper as if unsure what message it told. Then he looked at Norbert and, without acknowledging Norbert's glance, came and sat quietly beside him for the rest of the mass. Only Norbert and the young man remained in their seats for the sacrament of communion.

-x-x-x-

"You're not one of us," Norbert said to the young man.

"No. But I am on the waiting list." The young man shifted in his pew. Norbert looked at the golden-yellow grain of the pew in front of him and waited for the young man to continue. "There is only one of you in the city right now. So when I asked for help you were sent for."

"Couldn't you do this yourself? You can move about without facing the danger of detection that I do."

"Myself!" The young man spoke too loudly and those still in the church waiting to see the priest turned to look at him.

"Quietly."

"Sorry. I can't do this myself because of the risk of contagion."

"What do you mean? I thought this was about an archive of records."

"It was."

"And now there is a target?"

"Now there is a target."

"And I am the only watchman in the City?"

"Two more are coming. To support you."

Norbert Hassen raised his eyes to the clerestory and looked at the meaningless dark faces of the stained glass. With no light behind them the windows' dark forms had no story to tell. Norbert turned to the young man and started to speak when a priest came down the row in front of them and stopped with a smile.

"Were either of you waiting for confession?" The priest smiled condescendingly at Norbert.

Norbert looked at the round-faced priest and wondered how such a thing even found a place in the world.

What a ridiculous anachronism, he thought.

"No, thank you, we were just talking," Norbert said. And he smiled, sweetly. The priest smiled back and left them with a Latin phrase.

"What did he say?" the young man asked.

"He was blessing us. In his ignorance." Norbert waited until the priest had reached the confessional, out of earshot. "Tell me about the target."


Simplice (Simply)


First voice

"You didn't go because you don't want to be told you're crazy."

Daniel Greenberg, or DanG, sat on Johnathon's keyboard. Johnathon Zwilling spun slow circles in his grey, ergonomic office-chair. The fluorescent light overhead dimmed at regular intervals and Johnathon timed his circles so that he was facing DanG each time the light flickered with an annoying pop. DanG's back-end had long since filled the keyboard buffer; Johnathon's Linux-box beeped without ceasing.

"Somebody answer that keyboard," came a voice from one of the nearby cubes. "Or I'll go find the fuse box."

"Maybe you need to be told that you're crazy," said DanG. "You are spinning in circles in time with a light fixture to the tune of Johnny One-Note."

"More like Johnny One-Rump."

DanG raised himself just enough to remove the keyboard and set it to one side.

Johnathon continued his rotation. "I'm not crazy. I'm rhythmic."

"You can take his word for it," came another voice from another cube. "We're all not crazy here."

Johnathon stopped his circles. "Can I have my keyboard back?"


Novel truncated at 1000 lines