Archive for January, 2007


January 26, 2007

Naarka sat in the eatery after finishing his eggs, nursing a growing dislike for the nondescript proprietor of the place. I am so done with this place, he thought. Screw that guy, too. The proprietor, a somewhat stocky man in his late thirties with a face of large features mashed together, stood behind the counter washing his equipment. I guess he has been all right, and served me decent food without trouble, but man I just have not taken a like to him. In fact I have taken a dislike to him. Something about him — maybe just his being around when I’m making plans about which I’m embarrassed – or could be embarrassed. But why should I be? Because of what my father would say, that I was wasting my time – procrastinating, really – being a good-for-nothing hedonist instead of doing what I said I would do, instead of fulfilling my word.
Naarka turned his head. “Man. Check.”

The proprietor lifted his head to look up from his cleaning to Naarka, and said, “Citizen, yes. Right away.” He brought the check over and placed it carefully at the edge of the table, on the side opposite Naarka. Then he stepped away, back behind his counter, and took up his cleaning again.

Naarka leaned over and picked up the bill. He reached into the right-abdomen pocket of his shirt and pulled out a fist full of coins. He opened his palm, sorted through them, and placed on the table enough to cover the bill. He wasn’t going to wait for change. He got up, turned quickly and walked out the door with out looking at the proprietor, or even in his direction. He kept his eyes locked stiffly forward. His cock, still engorged but relaxed now after his ardor had cooled off while finishing his kaff, was still upright, held there by his pants. It began to stiffen again, as the material of his pants tightened and loosened, flexing with his walk. His cheeks started to become hot again. He stepped outside and only when the cool air hit his cheeks did he realize that he had been growing uncomfortably warm inside the eatery.

Now I gotta find a whorehouse, he thought as he stepped into the pool of light in the eatery’s lot. The thought seemed to explode upward from his brain pan through the top of his head, sending a charge down the length of each strand of his hair. He stepped over to his vehicle and climbed on, swinging his leg over the fuselage. But first I just want to get out of here. His horniness had almost become a physical need to come, an ache along the length of his shaft. A blindness was building like a hurricane behind his forehead, something in the same key as rage but in another octave. He wanted to stick his hand in his pants and jack himself off right there sitting on his vehicle in the middle of the eatery lot – he almost felt compelled to do it. But he didn’t. I just need to get out of there, get to some other well-lit area to check my maps, and find my way to a whorehouse, was what he thought.

He stopped, took a breath. He reached into the pouch sewn onto the front of his shirt and took out the key to his vehicle. He grabbed the large loop of leather tied to it and pulled it gently from around his neck, up over his hair and off his head. He tossed it, in a small mimicry of a lasso, over the steering column, and looped it once or twice. Then he grabbed it by the base and delicately lined up the four prongs with the slots on the top of the fuselage, and clicked the key down into place.

Instantly a spotlight flooded the window in front of him with light, turning it into a mirror, in which he saw his own flushed face. The vehicle lifted slightly, and a faint mid-tone humming began. His vehicle did not do reverse very well, so he backed it up only slightly, then leaned the steering column over in a very steep turn to exit his parking space. He gunned the pedals at first so the vehicle lurched forward across two-thirds the length of the lot toward the street. Then he backed off on the pedals, and got a feel for how much thrust was under the soles of his feet. The vehicle moved easily, drifting to the edge of the lot.

Naarka tilted to the right, and swung the vehicle out into the road. Up ahead he already had his stopping point picked out – a street light two large blocks away – about two hundred meters distant. He resisted the urge to hammer down on the pedals and rev the vehicle up to full speed to get there in about fifteen seconds. He slowly, calmly, deliberately brought is up to cruising speed and 50 meters from the light let off and let it coast. He came to a stop gently. He looked up and down the street. Nobody was there, but so what. So what if they were. He was just going to be checking his maps.

He reached down and unzipped the pack that hung off of his vehicle. He dug through the contents, and pulled out the large map which showed street-level detail of the city. He dug through the pack some more, and found the smaller visitors map, showing the major points of interest. He put both of them under the fat of his left thumb, on top of his left thigh, held there squeezed between the two. While still leaned over, he zipped the pack closed again.

Now he swung back upright, leaned back a bit and rested the two maps on the fuselage between his legs so he didn’t have to hold them in place with his hands. He picked up the smaller map first and opened it up. He studied it for a few seconds, scanning the city pictured there and briefly examining each of the symbols that marked a ‘point of interest’.

On the upper right side of the map was an index. The index was divided into sections, and each section had a little cartoony icon. Underneath each section were numbered names of the points of interest, along with their grid location. The numbers were placed on the actual map. Some of the points underneath each section, however, had their own icon instead of a plain number. One section, with an icon of green-lipsticked lips, was labeled ‘Sex’. Underneath that were three names, two of which had numbers next to them, and the top one had its own icon, a little bobcat head. The name was ‘Bobby Cats’.



January 17, 2007

The sculpture at the end of the median, in the middle of the four lanes of traffic, looked something like a gryphon with snakes for arms. Naarka moved his vehicle carefully through the swarming intersection to make his left turn. There was a low city-owned helot directing traffic, but he was generally ignored, especially by the few citizens in the crowd. After making his turn, he stuck to the middle of the street as he went down the east-west avenue, on the right-hand edge of the fast-moving vehicle traffic on the left, skirting the pedestrian traffic on the right, so that he could scan the buildings on the north side of the street, and not miss the visiting citizens center. Actually he shouldn’t have been worried – there was no fear of missing it.

There was a large sign in the middle of the sidewalk, a sign that was almost a monument itself, a thick stone block about two meters long, blocking half the walk, and about two-thirds of a meter wide. ‘Kyren Visiting Citizens Center’ was embossed on a metal plate on its side. The building was slightly larger than those surrounding it – about four stories to the others’ two. It was in white stone, the same as the sign. Fronting it was a large plaza, so that the entrance was set back ten meters or so compared with the faces of the other buildings on the street. Its sides, however, were flush with the neighboring buildings.

As he came up on the building, level with it, he cut through the pedestrian traffic to move toward the curb. He started to think, “Oh fuck. what am i going to do with my vehicle? I need to find some place to park it where it won’t get molested.” But he needn’t have worried on that score, either. Part of the front plaza was taken up by a kind of bay, a protrusion of the street into the sidewalk, where the curb drew back to cradle a small group of vehicles, watched over by a helot who was obviously attached to the center.

Naarka eased his vehicle to a stop at the curb. As he dismounted, the helot walked over to him and nodded his head. “Citizen, welcome. I will watch your vehicle for you.”

Naarka did not acknowledge him. He reached into the pack strapped to his vehicle and pulled out the letter with Teres’s address. He put it in to the left abdomen pocket of his shirt as he stepped from the tar-based pavement of the street onto the stone of the sidewalk. He walked through the little plaza through the little constellation of stone planters holding bushes and small trees, and past a small reflecting pool with a tiny squirt of a fountain. “This is … nice,” thought Naarka. “Not impressive, but .. nice.”

The building’s front doors were propped open. They were made of a heavy wood frame holding panes of glass about half a meter on a side. It took a half-second for his eyes to adjust to the rather dim interior. There wasn’t much artificial light in the lobby; it relied on the sunshine coming in through the open doors, and through the windows, which took up most of the front walls, in panes the same size as in the doors.

Another helot sat behind the reception counter. “Citizen, welcome. Welcome to Kyren. How can I help you? Or would you rather talk to a full citizen, if you have business that requires it?” Naarka looked off to the right. Through a small doorway with no door he saw a citizen sitting behind a desk, leaning back in his chair with his feet stretched out to rest his ankles on the desk, biting his lip and staring intently at a computer tablet that he occasionally stabbed with a stylus. His cape was very short, barely more than a shawl, hanging down to just under his shoulder blades.

Naarka looked back at the helot. “All I need is a map of the city.”

“Citizen, of course.” The attendant took a few steps to Naarka’s left, to stand in front of a display case. “We have a couple of maps available as complementary to visitors – maps of major attractions, a detailed map of the areas immediately around the eastern and western gates.” As he spoke he took two folded maps from a stand on top of the case and laid them down by the edge of the case nearest him, away form Naarka. then gently pushed them each forward about five centimeters. “We also have a map available for purchase which is a detailed street-level map of the entire city.”

“And how much is that?”

“Citizen, that is two small coins.”

“I want to look at it before I decide if I want to buy it.”

“Citizen, of course.” The attendant opened a cabinet door in the back of the display, reached in and took a map from the shelf inside. He placed it too at the edge of the counter away from Naarka, then slid it gently forward five centimeters. Naarka took that one and unfolded it, spreading it out on the counter top. Spread out it was a square almost half a meter on a a side. He also picked up the low-detail map of all the major points of interest in the city. He unfolded that and held it in his hands. It was about a decimeter on a side. he laid that down on top of the larger map. He looked from one to the other for a few minutes, then scanned the western portion of the larger map. He reached in to the left abdomen pocket of his long shirt and pulled out Teres’s letter. He held it in his hand, then rested his hand on the counter, holding the paper with the address facing up so the attendant could see it. “Where on this big map would this address be?” The attendant leaned forward slightly and looked down almost reluctantly at the folded slip of paper. “I was told this was in the western part of the city.”

The attendant straightened his back, lifting his head erect. He placed his hands palm down on top of the counter. “Citizen, I can not help you. I am afraid I do not know the western districts well. Perhaps you would like to speak to the citizen on duty?” he asked, looking back again over to the office on Naarka’s left, with a subservient head gesture.

Naarka sighed. He didn’t really believe the attendant couldn’t help him. He was pretty sure the attendant just didn’t _want_ to help him. But he probably couldn’t force his help without things getting uglier than he cared to make them. This wasn’t his home turf, and besides, he didn’t really give all that much of a shit. He shrugged his mouth, nodded, and said, “All right.”

The attendant stepped back, taking his hands off the counter, turned, and walked over to the office at the east side of the wide lobby. Naarka watched him walk up to the doorway, put his palms on his thighs and put his head down. The other citizen sitting in there looked up from his computer tablet. He leaned forward to look past the attendant, down the lobby at Naarka. He took his feet off the desk, put the tablet and stylus down. He stood up and walked out of his office and toward Naarka. The attendant followed two paces behind him, but turned to move back behind the counter, to his original position. He was leaving all further matters with Naarka to the citizen.

The citizen walked up to Naarka, stopped two paces away and held up his right hand, palm outwards. “Well, met, friend.”

Naarka held up his hand. “Well met.”

“How can I help, you? I take it this is your first visit to our city?”

Naarka ignored the second remark. ” I am trying to find out how to get to this address.” He held out the piece of paper to the other man. The other man lifted his hand, making as if to take the paper, but Naarka drew it back and placed it on the large map spread out on the counter, below the part showing the western section of the city. “A stall keeper in the square at the east gate told me it was in the western section of the city.” The other man stepped up to the counter, put his right elbow and forearm on it, and leaned forward.

“All right, let’s see.” He finally got a good look at the address. “Hmmm. Well, that’s in one of the helot neighborhoods…” He looked up at the attendant behind the counter. “Gan, you live on the north side, don’t you?”

“Citizen, that is correct,” said Gan, bowing his head slightly.

“All right, no help there. Well, let’s check the index on the back. Naarka picked up the smaller map so that the other citizen could reach over and flip the large map over. “Okay…um…” He ran his finger down several columns of close, small print. “Fifty-third district, fourth precinct… grid E-36.” He flipped the map back over. He again ran his fingers over the map – this time with two hands. He ran his right index finger over the letters on top, and his left over the numbers on the left, then brought them down and over in straight lines until they met, at what was presumably grid E-36 of the map. He took a stubby writing instrument from a small pouch on his belt and drew a small circle at that spot. He turned to look at Naarka, and raised his eyebrows. “Do you think you can find it from there?”

Naarka looked at the map with lidded eyes. “Yes I think so.”

“Well then. Is there anything else I can assist you with? Have you made arrangements for lodging?” He started folding the map up, preparing to hand it to Naarka.

“No, I will handle that later. Um, actually I haven’t yet paid for that map.”

“Oh,” the man waved his hand,scowled and smiled. “Take it.” He turned his head. “Gan, mark it against me in the accounts.” the helot just nodded, expressionless. The man turned back to Naarka and handed him the folded map. Naarka took it. “Now are you sure we can’t help you with anything else? Accommodation? Dining? Amusements?” One of his eyebrows went up, but only slightly.

“Well now I know where this address is, but what would be the best way to actually get there, from here?”

“Oh, okay. Well I’ll just show you roughly on the smaller map, all right? Shall I?” He put out his hand. Naarka looked at it for a brief instant, then realized what he wanted. He handed the man the smaller map he was still holding in his hand. “Well,” the citizen said, spreading the pamphlet out with one hand on the counter, and poising the writing instrument over it with his other hand, “I would take this street we’re on, Avul avenue, on west, until it hits the circle around the town center. Follow that around and then drop down south from the bottom of the circle. On, yes it should be the second major east-west street south from there, turn west. If you hit this north south road here,” he said, pointing at one near the edge of the city, “then you’ve gone too far.”

Naarka pursed his lips and nodded, “That should point me in the right direction. I’m sure I can manage the final details once I get in the neighborhood. Thanks.”

The other man smiled, narrowed his eyes and shook his eyes. “Not. At all. That is why we are here.”

“All right then. Thanks again. Good-bye.”

“Fare well.”

Naarka turned and walked out the open doors. It was bright outside.


January 14, 2007

That was something his father had helped him with – talking with the other citizen to get his helots out of their house for the afternoon, and getting Naarka access to their dwelling. This particular helot was named Mik. He was a relation of Dal’s – his older brother. He didn’t have any kids – had never married. He was never really super-attached to Dal’s family; he didn’t take Dal’s boys on outings to athletic events or anything. And he had almost ignored Teres since she and Dal had started dating. But after Dal was killed, Mik felt a great responsibility for his brother’s family, a feeling that pulled him back to Dal and Mik’s days in middle school and high school. Mik, as the older brother, had felt very responsible for Dal then. Mik was just older enough to be able to hear about his younger brother from the school grapevine and to occasionally see him around campus. When Dal was being picked on by some kids in his music class, Mik had cornered these kids after school and destroyed their instruments in front of them. Although Mik didn’t regularly include Dal in his circle of friends, he would occasionally invite Dal to get high if his friends were smoking up at or near Mik and Dal’s family house.

They had drifted apart in adult life. Mik would come over to Dal’s house on holiday occasions -maybe three or four times a year. But since their parents had died in a transportation accident when they were in their mid and late twenties, there was no real center of gravity to keep them together.

But that changed when Dal was killed by Naarka. Mik was the first one that Teres contacted – not really for her sake, but for Dal’s. She figured that Mik was Dal’s next of kin – after herself and the boys, of course, and thus deserved to know. And he might be able to tell whoever else needed to know – might in fact know who those people are. Mik was the one who realized that Teres, Cal and Bil might be in danger themselves. He had helped them pack and helped them get on the road. He told them not to tell him where they were going, but to contact him later – anonymously if they could. He also promised to take care of wrapping up their affairs after they had left. He would consolidate their property, sell it, and keep the proceeds in trust for them. “Just contact me after you get settled,” he had told Teres, “and we’ll try to figure out from there how to make the contact two-way.”

He put them in touch with the underground railroad, with which he had some minimal contact through his work. He was a landscaper, and employed a lot of temporary help. Some of that help were helots on the run. There was a person who occasionally asked him to employ people temporarily. This person was obviously connected to the railroad and the people he asked Mik to hire were obviously on the run.

Mik called this guy up on the latest number he had for him and asked to meet. They met at a kaff house and after buying some drinks to go, Mik asked him to come with him to look at some properties. They were staring each other full in the face, and they each knew that whatever conversation they had in a shop in front of other people was fucking meaningless. They got into Mik’s truck. They still didn’t speak. They drove to a corporate campus on which Mik worked on a regular basis and got out to stroll the grounds. Mik explained Teres’ situation to him.

This man nodded. “Okay. This is where I’ll meet them.” And gave Mik an address and a time. “You won’t come with them when they meet me there. I’ll take them first to a house, the people of which will know who you are. Your friends will be instructed to address all correspondence to this house, and this house will then forward it on to you. That will be for the first message. They will drop this message at your house, or somewhere else they will be sure you will get it. You will not meet or even see the people from this house. They will not handle any further communication between you and your friends, not even a reply to your friends. They or someone else along the way may give your friends advice on how to handle communication – but their advice will probably be not to attempt it. In any case, it will be largely up to your friends to figure it out and then give you instructions. In most cases people designate a trusted third party in whatever community they wind up in to whom you can send messages, and they will then forward it on to the party who has left.” The man shrugged. “But again, it’s entirely up to your friend. She may decide to entirely write you off, which if you ask me would be the safest course of action. So don’t wait for the first ‘I’m safe’ message. It may never come. If your friend is smart, it will never come.”

But the message did come. And Teres had not found in her new city a “trusted third party”, whom she could trust to relay messages. She was in fact alone in the new city. She felt very alone. She felt that she had been just dumped with no support network to help her get settled. And the people along the way, most of them, were not actually that friendly. Perhaps they had seen too much tragedy. She was actually happy not to deal with them any further. So she had taken the risk of sending Mik her address in the new city in the message which her “final deliverer” had reluctantly taken from her to take back along the chain of couriers and safe houses through which they had come.

He had shown up a week after she and her boys moved into her home, to collect the letter. He just showed up at the door, and said “Do you have it,” looking bored, and looking away down the street. She didn’t bother to invite him in, or offer to give him a drink. She had been warned to have the letter ready by this day. She went and fetched it from under her mattress and handed it to him, and he was gone. She made a point of closing the door immediately and not watching which way he went down the alley. And this was the letter that Naarka found on Mik’s kitchen counter.

In the letter Teres had, stupidly Naarka thought, written her address for Mik. So there was really no work that Naarka needed to do. He just needed to travel to the city where they were living, and find that address. And that wasn’t hard at all.

He entered the city from the east, traveling along the coast. Teres, Bil and Cal had traveled by boat along the coast, but Naarka had ridden along the coast roads, the vibrating vehicle under him shaking his balls for two days on the road. So they had come in on the docks, but he had come in along a main road, which was fairly clear between towns, but nearer the city, going through first bedroom communities and then warehouse/light industrial sections the road became very crowded.It took him probably half a day to travel the last ten miles into the city. At the official city limit there was a large stone gate, probably about forty or fifty meters tall, and spanning the road, which had grown to about eight lanes. It was huge, carved with images of the local gods, and really very impressive. As the traffic slowed to a crawl entering the city Naarka had plenty of time to sit on his vehicle and look up at it admiringly.

Once past the gate, the eight lanes of traffic dissolved into an immense square, with a large statuary fountain in the middle, around which clustered innumerable pedicabs. In The north east corner of the square, a little north of the gate, was the bus stand with about eight or ten buses clustered together, seemingly pushed up against each other by the push of all the other traffic, bodies and vehicles packing the square. And lining the edges of the square were the various stalls. The stalls sold everything – beverages, snacks, jewelry, luggage, cooked meals, freeze-dried meals, clothing, office supplies, you name it.

Naarka nudged his vehicle through the crowd over to one of the stalls, which happened to sell every kind of wallet. He reached into the zippered pack strapped to his vehicle and pulled out the letter, which he had previously folded so that the address was the only thing showing. He leaned over from atop his vehicle and asked the man behind the stall. “Do you know how to find this address?”

“Citizen, let me see.” The stall-keeper laid his hands flat on top of his piles of wallets and leaned forward across them to look at the paper. He kneaded his lips, which didn’t have a full complement of teeth behind them. He spoke with the accent of the area, which previously Naarka had only heard in sound and video recordings. “Citizen, that is in the western part of the city. I cannot give you exact directions. But. I will tell you that you can exit this square at the north west corner and take the street that continues on north west form there until you come to a wide east-west street. It will be the first street you see with a median dividing it down its length.

You can take that street all the way across the city. But, on the north side of that street, about 500 meters west from where you will meet the street, there is the visiting citizen’s center. There you can obtain a map.”

Naarka pushed up his lower lip and nodded, putting some of his upper body, from the chest, into the nod. “Man, thank you. You have been most helpful.”

“Citizen, can I interest you in a wallet,” said the stall keeper, moving his head slightly from side to side to indicate the piles of wallets piled up on top of his stall. He kept his hands palm down on his merchandise.

Naarka frowned in a small way with the right side of his mouth, making a smirk. “No. But here is a coin for you.” He reached into the right abdomen pocket of his shirt to take out a medium-sized coin, and tossed it on top of the stall keeper’s wares.

“Citizen, I humbly thank you.” The stall keeper stepped slightly back from the stall table, put his hands palm down on his thigh (while still standing) and bowed his head straight forward from his neck.

Naarka started pushing his vehicle through the crowd again, aiming for the north west corner. “Jeez,” he thought. “Maybe I should have asked that guy where I could store my vehicle.” It took him another fifteen minutes to get to the diagonal north west road the stall keeper had told him about. There his pace picked up. There were only two directions the traffic could go on this road. And it was four lanes, so in one of the middle lanes for powered and pedal traffic he could move at more than a snail’s pace. It only took him about five minutes before he reached a broad east-west street with a large median in the middle of it, fully as wide as the lanes on either side of it put together, so it took half of the width of the street. Making the street this broad gave the city dwellers a chance to see some large amount of the sky, to see what shapes the clouds might be forming themselves into, and to watch them move from west to east, at a pace somewhere between a drift and a march. The median held plants, and actually a lawn in what was a small garden or park. Some length down the block he could see a bench or two. Dominating the large intersection with the north-south street off of which Naarka was turning was a large sculpture of a mythological creature which rose out of one end of the median.


January 14, 2007

Naarka sliced his knife into the inert, sloppy mass in one of the middlingly firm spots of the egg. He swept his fork toward himself, exposing the cross-section of folded fleshy yellow streaked with white, from the creases and underneath of which seeped a further yellow run-off.

It was then that he decided not to search for them any more that night. He had been entertaining the idea of getting back on the road right after eating, and seeing if he could get back to that ferry in time. But no. He would let them go – for now. Give them a little more leash. They had narrowly escaped him – he should give them that victory. Besides, he could only imagine what kind of gut-wrenching fear they were going through right at that moment, and for the next day or so – and what austere, last-ditch, extreme hail-mary-pass tactics they would resort to. It was delicious to think of.

And it would give him a chance to get laid. Yes, that was a good idea. Relieve some of the tension of the past week or so – from today’s frustration, and the previous several days’ tedium of search and dull, grating anticipation. To get laid – it was a decision that in the back of his mind had already been made, but he knew he had to spend the next twenty minutes or so building up for himself rationalizations for it.

And that’s what he did, while he finished his eggs and toast. Before he had sat down to eat, the idea of going to get laid had been barely a possibility, not even really thought of, but now, it was a river of certainty, which swelled as time went on, and the doubts and gurglings of conscience retreated, overwhelmed by its flood. The conscience whispered of responsibility, of accountability – of managing our budget – do we have enough cash to get laid? Do you really want to go back to your father – or communicate with – or get in touch with your father to get more money to continue the search, so soon after you last asked for money? Hmm? Do you? And will you explain to him why you haven’t finished it yet? Will you tell him that they narrowly got away tonight, and you could have followed up, and perhaps finished it, finished them, tonight, and yet you didn’t? Because your cock was more important than your honor? Your word?

He listened detached, bemused, to this inner monologue – a ranting, the whiny whimpering of a loser. The certainty grew solid, turned into confidence. He started thinking seriously about it, unbelieving. Blood rushed to his skin, to the top of his head, to the front of his face, to his palms, the tops of his hands and the tips of his fingers. His cock was, had been curled in slumber, mashed up forgotten against his thigh. When the thought had first crossed his mind, right when he had decided to let his prey go for the night, right after he had sliced into the soft, oozing, slightly gooey egg – although now he he was coming to the crisper, butter-soaked film on its burned edges, right at that moment it had felt like there was a thin silver wire running through the middle length of his cock, through which at that moment briefly coursed a spark of electric fire. Now as blood rushed to his extremities, it was getting uncomfortable, engorged in the bent position it had wound up in when he had sat down with it almost falling down his pant leg.

Holding the last half of the second piece of toast in his right hand, Naarka lifted his pelvis slightly and slithered his left hand into his pants, then hooked his four non-thumb fingers around the shaft of his dick and pulled it into the middle of the groin of his pants – the ‘codpiece’ area. His cock had been been resting against his right thigh, with the tip bent back to the left a little. As he pulled it left into an upright position, it felt somewhat like a slow-motion whip-lash: as the cock straightened, the glans (he was circumcised) shifting right, the wide apron of its back or top rubbing against his thigh, and then it was dragged left, with the very tip that couched the urethral slit scraping against the material of his pants as he pulled the cock upright into position. It was an extra stimulation that in a fading camera-flash-like moment seemed to erase completely all conscience, though its echo started creeping in from his mind’s edges fairly soon.

He pulled his left hand out of his pants and picked up his cup of kaff with it. he finished eating his toast. He topped up his cup from the hot water dispenser at the end of his table by the window, and dropped in the last capsule of kaff. This one would take a minute or two for the coating to dissolve, since the pure hot water lowered the concentration of sweetening. Well, he had drunk most of it, hadn’t he. The slight warmth from the this-time slow reaction wasn’t noticeable behind the heat of the new water. He sipped from the cup. Yes, a lot of the sweetness was gone, but the needle spike of the kaff rush was stronger. Stronger, and of course a little dirtier without the sweetness. As the brief flush of erotic anticipation faded – partly because his dick had less resistance to throb against, and was, like anyone, tending back toward sleep when it was comfortable – he sat back in his seat, against the stuffed vinyl of the eatery counter’s booth bench, and rode the elevator of this next buzz.

Now he had to plan the logistics of it. Where was he gonna find the pussy. He sighed. He turned and looked around the eatery. The proprietor was wiping the chrome of his equipment. He looked in the other direction, away from the door, down the row of booths. There were no other customers. There were no communication consoles – voice, image, or data. The data was the one he wanted, so that he could check the directory for prostitutes. He looked back at the proprietor. Well, thought Naarka, I guess I could ask him where the the red light district is. No. Fuck him. He doesn’t need to know my business, or be able to tell people where I might have gone after I left here. And I don’t think I like him. He took another sip of kaff, and looked again out the window, past his vehicle.

I could go to the library. That was suitably anonymous. There should be some data terminals there. How good was the information going to be though. He could try the visiting center for citizens. They would steer him right. Not as anonymous, but there it was all among friends. He took another sip, and felt the resurgent buzz wave pulsing through his head, dissipating just before it hit the skin of his forehead.

The visiting citizen center had been his first destination after he had entered the city. He had stopped by the center just to find out exactly how to get to their street address. He had known the address of their house here before he left his home town. It had taken him quite a while. He had tacked down some old friends of Dal’s – other helots. Then he had searched their house while they were away. He had wandered through their belongings, being somewhat careful not to ransack the place. He found a piece of mail on their kitchen counter with the name of Dal’s wife on it – Teres. He took it, and that provided the address he had sought directions to at the visiting citizens’ center earlier that day.


January 6, 2007

Naarka stared out at his vehicle and asked himself What to do. What to do, what to do. What to fucking do. What. to. do. He took a breath, and tried to step back from the question a moment. At first trying to take stock of his situation, and then just to distract himself, he looked out the window more observationally, more dispassionately, at the world out there. There seemed to be a ceiling to the night. There wasn’t that much cloud cover, but because of the illumination outside, the night only seemed to reach up s far as the streetlights and the light from this eatery’s windows could go. Because of that light he couldn’t see up into the stars. If he could, if the lights were off, and he could actually see less of what was near him and low to the ground, if he could then see the stars, the night would be so much bigger.

His vehicle looked like a dead thing. Everything did, under the artificial lighting that seemed to want to be harsh was too damn weak to pull it off. The artificial lighting that was shooting its wad, spraying its jizm off into the awesome darkness of a natural night, and hoping that smearing it all over the surface of everything, making everything grimy and yucky, would make it powerful, make it feel useful and praised by mankind. But it didn’t. It just made everything look dead – his vehicle, the stone-encrusted tar that served as pavement, the grass in its cracks, the bushes off to the side, the rolling, blowing, billowing tumbleweeds skittering across the lot – it made them all look dead. And when something did move, like that tumbleweed or a bird perched on a power pole on the corner, twitching its head side to side in a circular motion as if its neck were a ball and socket joint – when something did move it looked like the dead were moving. The undead, not frightening but still ghastly.

The proprietor of the eatery brought his eggs, and set them down. In his other hand he held the toast, with a pat of jelly also on the plate, and he put that down too. The man took from his apron pocket a set of silverware, wrapped in a napkin. Immediately after he took it out of his pocket he dropped it to the bottom of his arm length, below the edge of the table, and only lifted it and just barely enough when he reached the table’s edge to set it down. He carefully placed it on the edge of the table, on the corner of the table across from where Naarka was sitting. He moved off quietly; Naarka did not thank him.

Naarka leaned forward slightly, stretched out his left hand and picked up the napkin-bundled silverware. He unrolled the napkin and dumped the knife, fork and spoon into his hand. with his right hand he took the spoon and half-tossed, it half placed it carefully at the top of the plate. He picked the knife out and readjusting his hand on the remaining fork, he poised them over the plate of eggs.

The plate was white, with a pair of concentric blue rings about an eighth of the way in from the edge. Naarka paused and lowered his hands to rest his wrists on the edge of the table. He took a breath. Was he a little lightheaded? He watched the plate for a few seconds, and closed his eyes. The concentric blue rings spawned empty echoes, ripples that weren’t perceptible except that actually he knew they were there, ripples expanding out into the scenery, out to the walls of the eatery, through them out to the lot, to the road, to the trees, out to the city, to the river, out to the desert and away to the faraway sea and beyond. And somewhere out there did they touch Dal’s family, Teres and her two boys, he thought. He raised the knife and fork again and cut into the scrambled eggs. The eggs were not cooked very skillfully. Part of them was runny: undercooked, and part of them, the “Back” as he suddenly thought of it, was charred and formed a weird base, like a charred suction cup for a dashboard ornament.


January 5, 2007

Bil sat up. Blinking was actually painful until he had wiped the mucus from his eyelids. Gods was he hungry. He looked around. Cal was on his left, lying under a dark tan blanket. He was also awake, but lying still under the blanket, arms and all tucked in, blanket up to his chin. He stared full-eyed up into the sky, apparently somewhere else in his mind. On Bil’s right, his mother sat with her legs tucked up by her chest, and a dark brown and purple-streaked blanket over them. Down slope from her were piled the three packs. She too was staring blankly, out into space, straight ahead at nothing hanging in the air before her. Her head seemed to be swaying forward slightly, as if she were ducking to pass under something at a height just a millimeter less than her own. Or maybe Bil was hallucinating it. He was tired enough. He felt that perhaps his perceptions hadn’t yet totally shaken off the sleep. Her face was lined, and the more harshly in the morning light. Shadows were faintly creeping around her eyes, making them start to look sunken. Her cheek twitched, she swallowed, and she turned to look directly at Bil, automatically, as if she expected a piece of clockwork to be in position at that exact moment. She saw him, and smiled.

“You’re awake,” she said. “Have something to eat. You didn’t finish this last night.” She looked down to the piece of cloth laid out on the ground next to her, and folded in half. She unfolded it and picked up the piece of dried fruit that Bil had started to eat before falling exhausted to sleep the night before. She leaned over to hand it to him.

Bil leaned over to take it from her hand. He stared at it lying in his palm for a couple of minutes, as if he didn’t know what it was, then brought it to his mouth, tore off a piece with his teeth, and began chewing automatically, starting at the sand in front of his feet. It was all one color – except when you looked at it closely. Then you saw that there were hundreds, thousands of individual grains, each of a different color, and looking closer you saw that some of these little ones were not all of one color, either. But in large, in aggregate, they formed a smooth, but not monotonous, pleasingly subtle variability. Like the grains of a carpet. Or the weave of a good quality cloth.

“Have some water.” He looked up to see his mother leaning over with the water flask. He leaned over again to take it. He poured a gulp or two of water into his mouth with the dried fruit still in there. He let the water sit in his mouth a minute, half wondered if the dried fruit would suddenly spring to life and become real fruit again with its water restored. Of course that didn’t happen. Shit, the fruit had been basting in his saliva for four or five minutes. If it was gonna happen it would have happened by now.

“Did you guys eat already?” Bil asked, and looked left at Cal. Cal sat up and rubbed his face vigorously up and down with open palms. Cal put his hands down by his hips, arms straight, and nodded. He was still staring emptily forward.

“Yes, we ate a little already,” said his mother.

“Did I sleep in? Should we get going?” asked Bil.

“No, you’re fine. Eat.” She smiled again, and her face seemed to relax slightly. “We have time, I think, this morning.” As if in agreement, Cal started moving his mouth, pursing his lips into different shapes, but still staring blankly into the same point in space. It looked like he was solving mathematical problems in his head.

“I guess he didn’t find us last night then,” said Bil. “Do you think we’re in danger now, today? I mean, do you think we’re in less danger than last night?”

The relaxed look in his mother’s face went away, and she looked concerned again. “I think we are safer. He has a larger search radius today. He has to take into account that we might have gone quite a long way by now. And he doesn’t know which direction we went.”

Cal looked over at her. “He knows we crossed the river,” he said. “There’s basically only two directions we could go – north or south. Leaving the road to go west into the desert would be insane.” He looked down at the ground. “Even though that’s almost what we’ve done.”

His mother looked off at the dunes marching to the western horizon. “He doesn’t know that we didn’t cross back over the river at some point north or south.” She took a slow, smooth breath with her mouth closed. “But we should stay off the road for a while.”

She looked back at Bil again. “Anyway, take your time. Have some jerky, and I have a piece of fresh fruit for you.”

By the time Bil had finished eating, and taken a few more mouthfuls of water, the chill of the night had gone, and the heat of the day was beginning. They packed up their blankets, and the food, and started walking north. Today they didn’t bother wiping out their tracks. They figured, or at least hoped, that the tracks would blown away by the wind by the time they were out of sight. Visibility during the day was far, very far in the desert.

In fact there was a very good chance of their tracks being blown away. The wind kicked up about half an hour after they started out. They wrapped their heads and faces in cloth, leaving small open stripes at their eyes so they could see. What little they could see. The two walking in the rear could see the person in front of them. But other than that it was all blowing sand and dust. They found themselves trying to find the right looseness or tightness of the strips of cloth wrapped around their face, trying to keep them loose enough so that the open stripe was a centimeter or two in front of their face, and their eyes weren’t directly exposed to the dust. The problem was that if it wasn’t wrapped tightly enough then the grit, dust and sand inevitably got inside the makeshift mask, grating the cheeks and getting in the mouth, souring the tongue. Fortunately the tunics they wore were long sleeved, and they were wearing boots instead of sandals. They had no gloves, however, and their hands and fingers were blown raw. When blood appeared at their knuckles and the edges of their fingernails they finally stopped and tore some cotton into strips thin enough to wrap around their fingers. They also looked for some material translucent enough to wrap around their eyes and still see through, but they coudln’t find anything suitable. They would have to bear it.

They couldn’t stop to eat lunch in this storm. They kept walking. They briefly considered stopping and waiting out the storm. But if they did that off the road they were in danger of being covered with sand. If they went to the road for shelter, seeking a building or something, they would be exposing themselves to being found either be Naarka or being seen by someone who would report them to Naarka if asked. They did not want to be seen by any witnesses. So, they kept walking.

The storm lasted about six hours before it blew itself out, decreasing to just occasional gusts full of dust, and they could loosen the cloths wrapping their faces and breathe.

Finally Teres stopped, and sat this time on the western slope of their little valley, and facing east. She wanted the wind at their backs. The boys sat down next to her. They were exhausted. They each ate another piece of fresh fruit, a piece of jerky, and a mouthful of water. They didn’t necessarily have to conserve water – after all they were only a few meters from civilization. But fetching water from a fountain or some such like would, again, expose them to witnesses. And if they had to suddenly flee into the wilderness then they would have that much more water that they hadn’t already drunk.

After eating they just sat there for another half an hour, resting. At different points they each dozed off for five or ten minutes. Then, “Okay,” said their mother, and they stood up, wearily, and trudged on northwards again.

Bil still felt hungry, but he moved his concentration on off of that to the soreness in his thighs, and shoulders, and his neck from supporting the pack with his head in that wind. The walk became monotonous – even more monotonous than in the wind, because there was no real opponent to struggle against – besides fatigue. Okay, there was no physical opponent then, who was physically pushing back. The dark figure of his brother Cal in front of him dissolved, or blurred into indistinctness. It became a dark shape against the tan-white sand, whose edges shifted like a circle of oil sitting on a pond of water. And then it disappeared completely as Bil’s mind forgot about it and the nothingness of weariness seeped into more and more layers of his thought. It would reappear if Bil thought about it, and then disappear again when Bil was distracted.

His mother ahead of him, out in front of the two boys, slowed, then stopped. They had been walking slightly uphill for the past two hours or so, and they now stood just before a crest where the land again sloped downward. Their little valley between dune ridges opened up ahead as well. The ground got rockier and several boulders stood up ahead. And farther, several hundred meters away in the distance, there was a long low building, with a large white plume coming out of a smokestack jutting out of its center.


January 4, 2007

He picked up a stirrer and swished it through the cup’s bubbling liquid a few times, waiting for the kaff to dissolve. He looked out at his vehicle, then at the road and buildings beyond. He took a sip.

He shouldn’t have burned their house. It gave them warning. His father would not be happy to hear about it either. He could have damaged some one else’s property, or so his father would lecture him. Naarka snorted a small breath out his nose and twisted his mouth when he thought of that lecture. He took another sip. The kaff was starting to hit him, driving his mind forward like a hammer hitting a brick through a tunnel. The sweetness of the honey-water coated the tunnel with oil to smooth out the rush, make it easy.

Burning their home was just something that happened to strike his mood. He was rummaging through their things, looking for some clue as to where they might be during the day – where they might work, or go to school. He overturned some baskets in their common room which turned out just to hold sewing projects in various states of completion. There was a small desk in another corner, and he pulled out the drawers and dumped the contents on top of the desk. He touched each paper lightly with his fingertips, briefly examining it for any relevance, then with a small motion of his knuckles flicking it off onto the floor. Homework papers – nothing with the name of the damn school. Pens, a small magnet, a compass, a protractor. Some pictures of children about the age of the younger boy, some with younger faces – and another picture, of someone he recognized. It was Dal, the father of the boys, the husband of Teres, the man Naarka had killed – what was it now, six months earlier? He picked up the picture and looked more closely at it. Funny thing about photographs, thought Naarka, people in them always seem to be trying to say something. As if everyone when a camera is pointed at them, instead of thinking “cheese” or whatever it is you’re supposed to say to make you smile, people have something else, something very specific to themselves, in mind. They are saying “cheese”, and smiling with their mouth, but with their eyes… they are clearly saying “I hope whoever sees this photo will get the message I’m thinking right now.” And now, this small 2 centimeter-square photo of Dal was looking straight at Naarka, and the message was very clearly aimed just at him. The message was, “I hope Naarka takes pity on me and my family.” Sal’s eyes looked directly at Naarka, and said, “Citizen, I hope you have pity.”

Naarka stared at the picture for two or three minutes with a blank, uninterested face. Finally he thought, “No. No, man. That is not going to happen.” He looked around and spotted a metal trash can at the side of the desk. He stuck his foot in its rim to drag over in front of him. With his left hand he swept his cape back to undo the string on the small bag hanging off his left hip, then fished his hand in there to dig out his lighter. He flipped open the top and held it under the photo, over the trash can. He held down the gas release trigger with his forefinger and heard the satisfying hiss. He depressed the igniter with his thumb. There was a click, a small puff and then the tiny roar as the small blue flame sprung to life. He moved the bottom of the photo to the peak of the flame. Its colors went sick, it bubbled, then blackened – and this effect moved up the picture, from Dal’s shoulders, past his collar and up his neck. The face on the picture closed its eyes, and the burn crept to the corner where Naarka held the photo’s edge. He dropped it into the trash.

Oops, there were other papers in there. They started to burn, and soon there was a good decimeter size flame in the trashcan. The mood struck him then, almost sweeping him away into euphoria. He looked around for other stuff that would burn. He shoveled the remaining papers on the desk into his arms, then dumped them on the flame. He stooped to collect all the papers he had already discarded, and fed them to the fire. That wasn’t going to be enough. He looked around again, a scan that was one more layer deep. Wood. He lifted one edge of the desk, spilling the remaining detritus off its surface and on to the floor as it tilted. He hoisted it high enough to clear the edge of the trash can, then scraped it the little distance along the floor until he could set one leg down in the middle of the flames. He turned to the small chair that went with the desk. He grabbed it by the back, and hefted it above his head, then brought it down fast on top of the desk. It dented the desk’s surface, but that was it. No, wait, the legs seemed a little looser in their braces. He raised it again, brought it down again. One of the legs was now loose. One more time, up, and down hard on the desk. None of the chairs horizontal braces was connected to more than one leg now, and the legs all shifted with the swing of the the chair. he didn’t want to be hit by flying pieces of chair, so he stopped, put the chair down the floor and braced his foot against it to wrench off the legs with his hands. He blinked several times. He was a little stunned. Nothing he had done in their home had taken so much of his own physical activity, and he felt like he had just committed the first violence against them. Never mind breaking in to their home, going through their things or setting their house on fire. Never mind killing their father. Well, the first violence against them today. The killing was months ago. The first violence against them in this city.

After tossing the pieces of chair into the growing fire, he felt drained. Plus, the desk was starting to burn. The fire was starting to grow. He felt he should probably leave.

He stepped out into the alley and thought about his next move. Go back to the rented garage to retrieve his vehicle? Not yet. He started to walk with no particular direction, then turned north. He reached into the left abdomen pocket of his shirt and pulled out two folded packets of paper. He had one kaff capsule and three deppers. He already felt on edge, too adrenalized, a little shocked from the physical and emotional exertion in the helots’ home. He popped one of the deppers into his mouth.

He rolled it against the roof of his mouth with his tongue. If he bit down on it all of the drug would be released at once. He didn’t bite. He let his saliva work slowly on the coating, looking forward to the unexpected timing of the upcoming drag on his mind, deliciously anticipating the wave of soothing prickly numbness. He walked through the neighborhood, which was filled with walled courtyards. However most of the gates to these were open. Small children ran in and between them. Women and older children were hanging laundry, or tending outdoor cooking fires. Seniors tended small gardens, shielded from the dust by fine netting or loosely woven cloth. No one noticed him. Which is to say, everyone assiduously didn’t notice him. Not one pair of eyes rested on him, or even glanced in his direction after first noticing his citizen’s cape. Which was too bad, he thought. Some of the women were attractive, and he wished they did notice him. He swung his head gently from side to side, almost ready to swing into one of the yards and proposition some housewife. Yes, he was feeling more and very mellow. He tested with his tongue. Yes, the depper capsule’s coating was wearing thin.

He turned his attention forward to the road, as his steps seemed to slow down. The edges of the houses seemed more distinct, while the walls and surfaces grew less so. Dust brushed off rooftops and met more dust curling up off the road, then froze in the air to hang unmoving all the while he walked. He let his eyes drop halfway closed. A huge smile grew inside, from ear to ear, but only showed as half a smirk on his face.

He came to an east-west thoroughfare. Wide enough to have gutters cut into the pavement on both sides of the street. Men walked both directions, carrying packs, drawing carts behind them, even driving mules. Naarka stood at the side of it, and lost his attention in the traffic for a few minutes. In a burst of logic, he figured, or seemed to remember, that the center of town was to the east. He started walking that way.

After about an hour, maybe only forty minutes, maybe it just seemed like an hour, he was thirsty. He had reached an area with food stalls on either side of the street. He found one that sold pureed fruit. It had a counter, or bar, with stools. He took a large coin out of his right abdomen pocket and walked up to the counter. He placed the coin on the counter and ordered a large drink. He sat down on one of the stools and sighed, looking absentmindedly at the menu-cum-advertisement drawn in chalk behind the counter. The man behind the counter took his coin and nodded. A couple of minutes later the man placed the drink and a group of smaller coins on the counter in front of Naarka. “Citizen, your drink. And change.”

Naarka scooped the coins into his hand and dropped them back in his pocket. He took the drink without acknowledging the server and turned in his stool to face the road. He leaned back on the counter and watched the traffic with a dull weariness as he sipped leisurely.

After he had drained the glass, he still sucked absently at his straw, then chewed it, staring into the air in front of him, thinking nothing, letting the gears of his mind turn freely without engaging a clutch. And out of it popped an idea. He turned to the server behind the counter. “Man. Where is the main market?”

The server wiped his hands on a rag, drying them from the dish washing he was doing. He placed his hands palm down on the counter. “Citizen, the main market is directly east along this road. There are also two other smaller markets, in the south and north sections of the city.”

“Thank you, man.” Naarka yawned and rubbed his chin. Then stepped off to continue down the road.

It took him slightly over an hour to reach the market. It was large, and very crowded. He spent most of the day going from stall to stall, asking about the two boys and their mother. Most of the shop tenders looked like they actually didn’t know anything about them, which was to be expected in such a large city. Some of them looked scared: they might have known something. Some of them seemed plain ornery, contrary – as if they actually wanted to stymie him. He thought about taking some of the last two categories off to a private area and dealing with them harshly. But he didn’t want to mess with any citizen that might own them or the shops or stalls they tended, especially since this wasn’t his native city.

Late in the afternoon, he came upon a stall that was closed, with an angry citizen standing in front of it. Naarka walked up and stood to the side of the citizen, and examined the front of the stall. According to the sign above the lowered screen, it was a cloth vendor. The other citizen suddenly turned to him, flaring his cape, and demanded angrily, “Do you know this store? Do you by chance own it? Or know the owner?”

Naarka raised his right hand palm outward. “Well met, friend. No, I do not.”

The man sighed, calmed himself, pursed his lips – hiding them in his gray goatee, and raised his hand in return. “Well met. Forgive me, friend. My man here was to take delivery today of some tapestries for one of my dining halls. Tapestries that have already been paid for, you understand. When he told me the shop was closed I almost cut off his arm for a thief. The woman who tends this shop has always been so reliable, you see.”

“She runs it alone?”

“She has her two boys to help her. Understand, she has only been tending the shop for a few months. But she has been such a help I almost came to rely on her as one of my own. I am very busy re-decorating several of my establishments. I try to keep up with the fashions, you see. My clientele would quickly go elsewhere if I didn’t.”

Naarka had raised his eyebrows, and his eyes almost popped out of his head. “I am sorry I cannot help you, friend. I am a stranger in the city myself. I wish you success.” He turned and walked briskly away, heading for the streets leading south and west. They were already on the move. They had been warned somehow. Probably by the fire, dammit. His father was right, he was too impulsive sometimes. He had no-one and no-thing to blame; he had gotten in this mess in his own way. There was nothing for it but to get his vehicle out of the garage and begin searching the major roads. He had to hope they had decided to leave the city. They might think his powers of investigation here were greater than they actually were. And in only a few months of living here there was a good chance they hadn’t made any friends close enough or powerful enough to hide them enough to make them feel safe. He had to bet they had no one they felt they could trust with their lives. Well if nothing turned up on the roads then he could take his time searching the city. But if they did leave it was best not to let them get too much of a head start.

He walked quickly, but didn’t run. He reached into his pocket and took out the folded paper packets again. He found the one kaff capsule and popped it in his mouth, tossing the empty paper onto the street. He bit down on the capsule’s coating and quickened his steps slightly.

Bil woke up hungry. His skin was grimy with dried sweat. He was a little chilly, even though someone had put a blanket over him while he slept.


January 3, 2007

The walked wearily but quickly south down the road. Their mother, Teres, kept glancing off to her right at the west side of the road, and the boys quickly realized what she was looking for, so they started looking for it too. The ferry station on this side of the river did not abut a residential area like that on the east. Here there were a few warehouses, and more empty lots, and these were between the road they walked and the river. But in effect the western desert began at the road. There were some stands of palm trees, accompanied by clumps of tall, sharp reedy-looking grass, and then sand. If they stepped off the road onto sand, they could be tracked easily. They were looking for some rocky ground, sheltered or isolated enough that they could step off the road without being noticed. Fortunately at this hour there was almost no one on the road. Bil felt in his nose and mouth the incongruous pairing of the dust from the desert and the humidity from the river.

Finally after about fifteen or twenty more minutes they found a patch of gravel trending to large rocks that was far enough away from any of the warehouses to be out of sight. Teres quickly turned and picked her way through the rocks – gingerly, as if trying to be quiet even though there was no one around. Her boys followed, and discovered they had to be just as delicate about their footfalls. The rocks were large enough to make unstable footing, and it was very dark away from the lights of the warehouses and the occasional lamp along the side of the road.

About fifteen meters from the road there was a large boulder, which provided a sort of psychological marker – once they got past it they felt safer, and they were comfortable about stumbling loudly on top of the scraping rocks. Another thirty meters and the rocks, growing smaller, faded again into sand – a fairly flat surface for another fifty meters, and then the beginning of dunes. Teres stopped and the boys came up even with her. Bil felt tired. The emotional energy of fear and tension was starting to fade. He almost hoped she was going to suggest lying down here for a rest. In fact, he almost expected it. She looked tired too. She wore a look of resigned confidence – the look a leader gets when she has made a decision she doesn’t like, a decision she feels is justified, but one she is ready to be argued out of making. “Let’s walk on to get behind the first line of dunes before turning north.” She turned from one to the other to look quickly into each of their faces. “Okay?” They both nodded. They sure didn’t have any better ideas. Bil didn’t ask about taking a rest. He knew that that idea was bad.

“All right then. Hold on a moment.” She squatted down and unslung her pack enough to reach into it and pull out a bolt of one of the cheaper cotton cloths that they had brought along. After slinging her pack back on, she said, “Walk ahead. Single file. I’m going to try and wipe out our tracks with this.”

Cal leaned over and took the cloth. “I’ll do it.”

“I can do it, Mom,” said Bil.

“Let Cal do it first. You can take over half way to the dune.”

“All right.”

“Okay, now. Walk in front of me. Single file.” They started walking.

The sand was firm at first, and walking was easy. As they moved closer to the dunes and farther from the rocks the sand became looser, and walking more difficult.

“Okay, Bil,” said Cal. You can take over. Cal had already unrolled the cylinder of cloth to a length of about three-fourths of a meter and then pinned it so that it wouldn’t unroll any more. He showed Bil that he could walk forward and hold the edge of the unrolled strip so that the unrolled cylinder acted as its own weight and dragged enough to wipe out their tracks. A meter-wide flat strip in the sand would of itself be conspicuous, but Cal had carefully brushed the beginning of their trail to a natural look. Bil had half-expected to have to walk backwards sweeping the ground from side to side. He was glad he didn’t have to, since walking had become harder and harder as they approached the dunes, so that his feet sank up to his ankles, and his thighs were working so hard to pump his legs through extremes that he felt like he was climbing.

The first recognizable dune they reached was about the height of their waists. Just beyond it was one of a line of dunes that was a third taller than Cal, who was the tallest of the three. They went up and over the smaller and went on to get behind the larger one. The were about a third of the way from its southern end, so they had to turn a little to the left, and aimed for the saddle between it and its neighbor. It was part of a line of dunes which stretched southward to follow the course of the river and which veered westward slightly, away from the river, as it went north.

Once they were behind the dune, Teres, who was walking in front, stopped and turned to her sons. “Let’s walk north a couple more dunes, and then we can stop to rest. Cal, can you take over masking our tracks?”

Bil thought to himself that he should protest, but he was too tired. He simply stared forward, breathing heavily through both his mouth and nose, while his older brother took the cloth from him. “All right, just a little farther,” said his mother, and she started walking again. He followed.

They walked in the valley between the lines of dunes that stretched south and northwest. The sand in the middle of this was actually rather well packed, and the going was easier than it had been the last few meters coming from the east.

It was quiet behind the dunes, with a stillness as if they had shut a door. They could no longer hear any kind of gurgling of river water, or rustling of palm trees – only the occasional bird cry from the dunes on their right. Bil looked up at the sky. The lights of the city were still there, but as a glow along the eastern ridge of dunes. The sky to the west was very black, and the stars seemed much more dense there. If he looked west for more than a minute without looking back east, he could even start to make out the White Road marching across the heaven.

They walked the length of the first dune, then the length of the second dune, and at the halfway point of the third dune, Teres stopped, walked a little east and sat on the dune’s slope. Bil stumbled over and sat down next to her, slightly lower on the slope. Cal walked over slowly, picked up the bolt of cloth and started rolling it back up.

“You can put that away,” said his mother. “I don’t think we need to use it anymore.”

“It’s no trouble to use. I can keep it out.”

She gave him a look of concern that was almost pity. “If we have to leave quickly from our rest I don’t want to leave anything behind. So let’s keep as much as we can packed up.”

Cal closed his eyes and nodded, then unslung his pack to put the roll of cloth in it.

Teres had brought out some dried fruit and the flask of water, and handed them to her sons. Bil took a mouthful of the water and started chewing the dried fruit. He leaned back against the soft dune slope and looked at the western sky again. He tried to think of the future, of his friends, of tomorrow… The blackness of the sky receded, and the pricks of white that were lights of the stars, and the soft white of the sand at the horizon, advanced toward him. He closed his eyes to rest them for a second, and fell straight to sleep.

His mother took the piece of dried fruit from his hand.

Naarka stood on the dock of the ferry station on the east side of the river. He still held the hand lamp. He held it up, pointed at the receding ferry until he could no longer make out the figure of the attendant leaning against the railing on its deck. Then he turned off the lamp and let his hand drop. He tapped the lamp thoughtfully against the thick woolen leggings wrapping his thigh. He drew a long breath in slowly, and let it out gradually, trying to make the exhale twice as slow as the inhale. He let his frustration drop like an instrument reading with every passing moment of this breath.

He turned and stepped back into the ferry station. In two long steps he was standing in front of the ticket counter. “You. Man. When does the next ferry come?”

The computer tablet on which the man had been reading his magazine was no longer visible. It was resting dark and silent in the top drawer of the ticket counter. The man had put it away when he saw Naarka’s darkly caped figure walking toward the station from his vehicle.

“Citizen, not for another four hours.”

“Does it take two hours to cross the river? One way?”

“Citizen, it takes an hour to cross the river. However the ferry is not scheduled to leave the western bank for another two hours after it arrives there. The overnight schedule is not as frequent as the day.”

Naarka dropped his eyebrows in a scowl. He looked down at the floor in consternation. He darted his eyes back up and to the ticket agent. “Can you call the western station and have the ferry leave from there earlier than scheduled?”

The ticket agent placed both hands palm down on the counter top in what was meant to be a gesture of resignation. He had learned to do that instead of raising his hands in a shrug. He could not raise his hand to a citizen. Not in any way. He had been punished, years ago, and he had learned. “Citizen, I cannot. I do not have the authority to do that.”
Naarka put his right hand to his hip, resting it on his belt. He brought his left hand up to his chin, and rubbed his index finger back and forth across the little indentation between his lower lip and chin. He liked the smooth feel of the glove’s leather. He liked the smell of it too.

He dropped both hands and strode evenly back to his vehicle.

The ticket agent turned his head to watch him go. He kept his hands on the counter and did not look away until the vehicle had turned off the access road to the ferry station and back onto the north/south road. He then calmly opened the drawer, took out the computer tablet and switched it on. He laid it down on the counter and put his elbows on either side of it. He rested his face on his fists, directly above the screen, and began reading again. Again the blinking advertisements colored his face like a candy wrapper.

Naarka had decided to get something to eat. he was driving north, back toward the city, where there was more chance of finding an eatery open this late. The night air was cooling off rapidly. The breeze of rapid travel felt good on his face. The wind whipping over the small windshield and roughly tousling his hair felt good too. There were a very few people on the road. He started to wish they wouldn’t step off the road to let him pass – he enjoyed swerving around them; it gave him a chance to actually drive the vehicle, to feel it move in more than one direction, and to have it intimate to him what it could do.

After a time he saw an eatery that looked open. The road widened to meet a large intersection where the cross street was a major east-west thoroughfare to the east, and to the west narrowed to enter a residential subdivision. On the south-east corner a small building with large brightly lit half glassed windows. The light rolled out of these windows and spilled across the building’s open yard, glinting like dots of paint off of the small stones embedded in the tar there.

Naarka swiveled the steering column to turn into the eatery’s yard while pivoting his foot up and pressing his heel down and backward into the stirrup to ease the vehicle to a halt just in front of one of the windows. He brought his feet out and rested them on top of the stirrup housing, then pulled the four-pronged key out of the fuselage in front of him. As he pushed it up out of the locked position his vehicle’s front light switched off, making the glass spanning the bottom half of the window in front of him switch from opaquely white with reflected light to transparent, revealing the darkly upholstered booths inside. He could see the eatery’s proprietor standing behind a counter on the opposite side of the room. From the unlock position he was able to pull the key out, then he lifted its cord off the steering column and lifted it over his own head to hang around his neck. He took the key itself, and as he looked down to slide it into the fitted pouch on the chest of his leather shirt, the gold wires running down its prongs glinted in the light from the window. He put his left foot on the ground and swung his right foot back across the seat to dismount. He walked to the screen door at the corner of the building.

By the time he had stepped into the room, the proprietor had moved from behind the counter and was standing by the door with a menu, waiting to greet him.

“Citizen, Welcome and good evening. Where would you like to sit?”

Naarka ignored him and walked to the booth next to the window that looked directly on his vehicle. He sat down, and the proprietor, who had followed him, set the menu on the table. “Citizen, what would you like?”

“Do you serve eggs?”

“Citizen, yes we do. How many would you like, and how would you like them prepared?”

“Bring me three eggs, scrambled,” said Naarka, swinging up the pages of the menu. “Toast with jelly. And kaff with honey-water.”

“Citizen, how many capsules of kaff?”

“Five,” said Naarka, gazing out at his vehicle.

“Citizen, right away.” The proprietor walked off and returned in a moment with a cup of honey-water. He put it in the middle of the table, and next to it he dropped five dark-brown kaff capsules. Naarka took a napkin from the table, folded it, and dropped two of the capsules into the crease. He then folded the sides of the napkin in, and the top down to make an awkward box, and put that in the left abdomen pocket of his shirt. He could pop those capsules straight, some time later. Especially if he stayed up looking for those three tonight. Maybe during a long drive. He grabbed the cup and dropped two of the remaining three capsules into the honey-water. He could feel the cup heat up in his hand as the same chemicals which gave the honey-water its sweet taste broke down the coating of the capsules, giving off heat and releasing the kaff into the water.


January 2, 2007

Nearing the outskirts, they started moving west toward the river. They had reached an area only sparsely covered by streetlights, and they walked in the dark. Bil walked at the rear, and the other two faded from accurate perception, and became simple, stark looming shadows shifting in front of him.

They were moving now past detached single family homes with large, walled in yards. As it grew darker and darker, they heard less and less movement behind these walls. And each time he heard movement, Bil was more surprised, more suspicious of it, almost alarmed. The cables carrying communication and power to the houses had moved above ground. The light came from halfway up poles, or from under the eaves of houses. Shadows were cast up. Light hid behind walls.

Finally the houses ended, and they had turned to be walking south down the main road out of the city. Soon enough they came to a small road branching off to their right, to the west, toward the river. They turned and started down the side road, and they could see about 200 hundred meters ahead the isolated brightness of the ferry station. Small puddles of water slouched below clumps of grass on either side of the road. They walked on about twenty meters, then turned off the road to find a dry spot where they could wait for the ferry. The best spot they could find was a thicker patch of grass next to a stand of bushes. If it wasn’t dry, it at least gave them some cover from the road. Instead of shadows standing alone they would be shadows melded with that of the shrubbery.

They unslung their packs and sat. Bil’s mother took out a flask of water, took a drink, and passed it to her sons. Bil rubbed his hand over his forehead, which just moved the sweat around. He took a cloth from one of the pockets of his tunic and mopped his face with it. He leaned backwards and settled against his pack, then looked off toward the ferry station. Even from here he could hear a humming, from its lights, and its temperature control unit, which must have been working overtime since the station was half open to the night. It was the sound of power flowing. As if power when it flowed generated sound, the way that electrons when they move generate magnetism. As if sound was simply power viewed at relativistic speeds. The power flowed into the small building, and branched arterially to flow into all of its machines of convenience. There would be machines there that dispensed sweet juice, Bil thought as he sipped the stale water from his mother’s flask. He turned his head slowly to follow the poles that held the wire that carried the power. The poles, of flaking wood, were prettily highlighted by the light from the ferry station hitting them on only one side. Bil asked himself, can I see a cicada alit, clinging on one of those poles, like in that old story about the thief at the abandoned gate? Kurigurisu was it called? Or, kirigirisu.

They sat in silence for several minutes. “Mother.” Finally Cal worked up the courage to say a thing. “It may be a little late to say this, but. Do you think, this time, we could maybe go to the police?” His mother looked at him, but did not deign to answer.

Bil drew his legs up and hung his head between them and cantilevered his arms on his knees. He thought about his friends, Dan and Peet, and all the other kids in his class. Would they be doing in school tomorrow? Would they miss him? Would there be a commotion? A frantic search? No. He knew there wouldn’t be. He hadn’t once heard of such a thing. And he had known other kids who suddenly one morning just weren’t there, just didn’t show up any more. Everybody kind of knew what it was about, but nobody ever remarked on it. He looked up at the sky. Thin strips of cloud glowed faintly in front of a waning moon, about an eighth full. They held no answers.

“Here it comes,” said his mother as she stood up. Bil stood up too, and he could see the blinking light on the roof of the ferry, which was moving toward them across the wide river. It was maybe half way across. Hopefully they would reach the station about the same time the boat did. As they hefted their packs and moved down the road, cicadas did start singing from the reeds on either side: kirigirikiririgurisu, kirigirikiririgurisu.

The stations was in fact half open to the night. Couches of purple vinyl, with cream foam showing through at the corners and seams, rested on concrete and under nothing but the stars. It was a room defined not by walls but by how far the light reached, and what it touched. Underneath the half ceiling at the far end was a short row of communications terminals, for voice, video and data. Behind them were the vending machines, and opposite them on the side wall was the ticket counter. The old man behind the ticket counter was the only other person in the place. In the first half of his sixties, he sat in a wooden chair, reading a magazine off of a computer tablet. The ads flashing on the tablet lit his face in a frenzy that made him look excited. But after staring well at him for several seconds Bil realized that his face was perhaps the most perfect example of boredom Bil had ever seen.

It turned out that they were faster than the boat. The boat had in fact only come another quarter of the way across the river during their last walk. They had plenty of time to buy tickets. While his mother walked over to the counter to negotiate this, pulling a small bag of coins from under the collar of her dress, Bil walked past out the door onto the dock. He reached up and pulled the stabilizing band off of his forehead, and shrugged out of the shoulder straps, setting his pack against the outside of the wall. He took a few steps to lean forward against the rail. In a minute his brother Cal joined him, and the two of them looked out across the river, and lifted their faces to accept the breeze drifting off of the water. They then held a mighty conversation, complicated by many counter arguments. They held it in the space of two or three breaths, without saying a word or even looking at each other.

Now they could see all of the ferry, and all of its lights blinking above and on either side in different colors. The ferry came on slowly, pushing low lumbering waves in front of it and off to either side. On the deck at the front stood another older attendant, dangling a signal lantern from his right hand. As the boat slowed and neared the dock, he held up his left hand to give the the pilot signals which somehow resulted in a smooth, jerk-free touching against the dock. The deck attendant then opened the gate in the boat’s railing, and motioned them aboard with his signal lamp. The two brothers and their mother stepped aboard with their packs.

They had to wait five minutes before the ferry set out again for the opposite shore. They stacked their packs on the deck, against the cabin wall. Bil sat on the north side, with his legs dangling through the railing and over the side of the boat. He watched the starlight glinting off of the small far-off waves. His mother reached down and touched him on the shoulder. “Bil, are you hungry? Or thirsty?” Bil shook his head. Prepared for this, his mother held out a few coins. Can you go into the cabin and see if there is a vending machine to get me some juice then?”

“Sure.” He got up. Only as he was walking away did it occur to him that maybe she wanted to get rid of him so that she could talk to Cal. He walked down the deck to the cabin door. Aside from the bridge and crew area, the inside of the boat was one big room: a grimy plastic sounding chamber, shaped vaguely like an amphitheater, echoing only emptiness and purposelessness. At the bottom of the amphitheater were two vending machines, one for juice and the other for nuts and dried food. He stepped down and put two coins in the juice machine, which spit out a plastic bulb. He pulled off the stopper and took a sip. He let the tang drip off the roof of his mouth as he turned and walked back up to the deck. “Mother, I took a sip of your juice,” he said and held it out to her.

She didn’t respond. She and Cal were both looking north-east, at a bright light moving south along the course of the river. A cold feeling crystallized in the middle of Bil’s chest. “Is it,” he said. Then the three of them were silent as they watched it move closer.

They heard a click and realized they were moving. The sound was the deck attendant closing the railing gate. The station moved away from them slowly, and then suddenly their perspective shifted and they were moving away from the station, which was very much fairly far away now. They watched as the light came up to be on a level with the ferry station, and then moved on south past it. They each let out the breath they hadn’t realized they were holding in. Then the light slowed, turned, and came back north. It again came level with the station, where it slowed to a stop. Then it came west toward the river, and the station, and them. It moved behind the station so that they could no longer see it. The dull churn of the engines, and the slapping of water against the side of the boat, suddenly seemed very very loud.

And a figure stepped from the station door onto the dock. It was tall and in a blue cape. It raised its arm and turned on a bright light, bright enough to hurt their eyes when the figure pointed it at them after sweeping the light a few times across the water.

Bil took an involuntary step backwards. His mother finally turned away from the far figure and touched Cal’s arm. “Come. Let’s go inside.”

So they sat inside that room that Bil felt was so fake. They sat inside their fear, for a good forty minutes until they were almost on the other side of the river. During which Bil felt like his soul was draining out through his eyes.

When the deck attendant was once again signaling the pilot for the final approach to the western dock, the three of them were standing on deck waiting for him to open the gate. The boys’ mother had been eying the attendant with obvious worry for several minutes, but he was as oblivious to it as he had been to everything else for the past hour that they had had the chance to observe him. However, as she stepped through the gate onto the dock after her sons, the attendant looked her in the eye, smiled, and said, “Don’t worry.”

Cal and Bil held another discussion with one frantic glance at each other. Bil wanted to ask his mother, with tearful relief, “Does he understand? Really?” But he didn’t. She didn’t look any less worried. She hurried them through the station, past the woman behind the ticket counter, who seemed too wrapped up in the puzzle she was doing to notice them, and out the door. They stepped out into the north-south road, which was adjacent to the ferry station on this side of the river.
Their mother looked both ways, and then said “Come.” They followed her south.

When they were ten or twenty meters down the road, she said, low, almost under her breath, “I don’t trust that man on the boat. Not at all. And don’t think the woman in the station here didn’t see us, and wouldn’t betray us to him. We’ll travel south for a little more, then move off the road and try to double back north.”


January 2, 2007

The three of them left the city, and fled into the desert. Naarka was chasing them. He haunted Bil’s dreams: tall, haystack hairdo. Cape, scarf worn up around the mouth, both in blue cloth. Whenever Bil closed his eyes that tall, dark-haired figure in a blue cape, rose behind a city in flames.

It wasn’t the whole city that actually went up in flames, though. Just their house. Bil had found it coming home from school. As he walked down the alleys, like miniature canyons between the close set sandstone buildings, he was a little more than mildly curious about the smoke drifting overhead, just over the roofs. He could only see it in snatches between the netting and scaffolding which bridged many of the building tops together. And as he rounded the last corner he saw the smoke was coming from his house. At first it looked like there was a large, thick, black velvet curtain hanging out of the window to their living room on the first floor – fluttering slightly in the breeze. Except that it was hanging up. Then he realized it was a column of smoke – a large soft pipe, disintegrating upwards but continually renewed by the ashes of his life.

He didn’t even stop to think of dropping his schoolbooks. He immediately turned and ran off in the direction of the market. His mother, and his elder brother Cal would be there. He usually had an hour or two to himself before they came home for dinner. Sometimes he would be responsible for getting dinner ready. Sometimes his mother would set something up in the morning to cook while they were all away during the day. It crossed his mind that perhaps a cooking fire for this task had gone awry today. But today was a day that Cal and his mother were to bring dinner home from the market.

He had started running without thinking. Not really fast, he was running confusedly; his limbs thrashed without purpose. As his mind started to process what was going on, going backwards to search for some possible cause, and forwards to explore the implications, he started to get scared. In order not to think about that, he tried to concentrate just on running. He pulled his arms in, into some kind of order, into a regular pumping – almost a reaching but without over-extending, without stretching. He tried to give his legs some form too, pointing his feet, searching for a gait, a controlled leaping like a gazelle. And his lungs started to hurt. With each breath taken in it felt like they were bumping up against the interior walls of a steel oven. He concentrated then on his breath, tried to make it a smooth circular cycle, and tried to synch it with the swing of his gait. He also collided with other people, and a few walls, before he found his stride.

He had to cross the market diagonally to reach his family’s stall. When he got there, his brother Cal was standing at the counter. When he noticed Bil running toward him through the crowd, his eyes seemed to retreat slightly back into his head. He scowled in concern as Bil started skidding to a stop in front of him. “What’s the matter?” Cal asked.

“Cal. Where is mother.” Bil caught the counter before crashing into it and tried to catch his breath.

“She’s just in back. What happened?”

Bil leaned forward, hanging from the counter by one arm, gasping. “Get mom. Our house. Is on fire.”

Cal’s eyes shot wide, and he quickly turned and darted between the small piles of cloth piled behind the counter and disappeared through the opening of a thick brocaded curtain.

Almost immediately Bil’s mother burst back through the curtain, moving smoothly as if on wheels under her skirt. Under her headband her face wore a look of serious, controlled concern. “Bil. Tell me. What happened?”

Bil made a small effort, and swallowed some of the mucus moving up from his lungs. He sucked in a new breath. “I don’t know. I was coming home, and I saw smoke, coming out of the living room window. I saw the smoke from several streets away. But I didn’t know it was from our house until I saw our window. When I saw that, I just ran here. I. I didn’t try to look inside. I’m sorry.”

His mother put her hand on his shoulder. “You did the right thing. You should not be sorry. I am not.” While Bil felt a slight relief, his mother turned to look at Cal.

Cal was frowning, he shrugged with his cheeks. “Naarka?” he offered.

“If he’s in the city,” replied his mother, “we should leave at once. Pack up some merchandise that will be easy to carry, and that we can sell easily. I will go buy us some food for rations.” She rested her hand on Bil’s shoulder again. “I will be back soon.”

Smoothly again she moved back through the curtain, and in only a moment emerged again, having gotten some money from their lock box. She moved from behind the counter, and disappeared into the crowd. Bil looked after her, then up at Cal. Cal was already looking at him. He motioned with his hand. “Come on. Let’s pack up some stuff.” Bil stepped around to move behind the counter. Cal lifted from the floor a wooden sign that they used when taking breaks, and put it on the counter. Bil followed him through the curtain to the back of the stall.

It was darker there, and cooler. Sunlight filtered in shafts through the cloth ceiling three times their height above them, and from the lattice-ceilinged alley in back. “Go for the silks,” Cal said. “They’re light, but will get a good price.”

“Okay.” Bil worked quickly, not through fear or panic, but through absorption in his task. He hoped that concentrating on that would stave off both fear and panic. Cal was packing some of the heavier expensive cloth- embroidery, brocade, and woven tapestry. By the time their mother returned, they had laid out piles of cloth for each of the three of them to carry, and were searching around for any personal effects that may be lying around the stall and that they might need or want. “What about my schoolbooks?” asked Bil, who suddenly remembered that he hadn’t dropped them during his run. He had carried them all the way here and had dropped them on the ground out in the front of the stall.

Cal sighed and pursed his lips. “Can you pick one?”

Bil walked back out to the front of the stall and picked up the pile of books where he had dropped them, and carried them to the back. He laid them on a table and began sorting them, setting aside the ones he definitely didn’t want. Stratum. Life. Analysis. Computation. He separated out two candidates. Stories and History. Cal came over and looked at them. He picked up the Stratum and Life books. “Do you think maybe something more practical would be good? Something that may come in handy as a reference? We don’t know what kind of situations we might have to deal with.” He sighed. “We may be camping out, foraging for food… anything.”

Bil took the Life book and flipped through it. “Well. This isn’t a field guide, you know. It’s pretty general. Do you really think we’ll use it?”

Cal took it back and put it back down on the table. He smiled weakly. “You’re right. Take something to keep your spirits up.” He moved off to continue organizing his own pack.

Bil looked between the Stories and History texts. He wished he had all his books on a computer tablet like some of the other kids. Then he could take all of his books. Oh well. At least he didn’t have to worry about finding power for these, he told himself. “Do you think I could take both of these?” he asked Cal.

Cal shrugged. “You’re the one that’s gonna carry them.” Bil looked back down at the two books. he sucked in one cheek and blew out the other, thinking. He almost felt guilty wasting time on fantasy. And something told him that the histories would show him more about how to handle himself. And to know them would make him seem more intelligent to other people. He put down the book of stories and carried the book of histories over to the pack he was putting together for himself. As he was shoving it into his bundle of cloth his mother returned.

She lifted one side of the split curtain to carry in the basket of provisions she had brought back with her. She put the basket down on the table next to the pile of books Bil had just left there. She looked at them, then over at Bil who still had the Histories in his hand. She seemed to understand instantly what he was doing. She looked down at the books on the table again. “You are not taking your book of stories?”

“Nah. We want to travel light, right?”

“I will carry it for you.” She picked up the book and put it on top of the basket. She carried both over to the pack that Cal and Bil had started to lay out for her. Bil frowned in a small fit of shame, and Cal just frowned, but neither of them offered argument.

She looked at the silk, brocade and embroidery they had packed. “We won’t always be selling to people who can afford the best. We should pack some basic linen, and cotton.” They spent some time rearranging the packs. She also divided up among them the food that she had brought back. And she gave each of them a portion of the money they had. They understood without speaking about it that this was in case they got separated, or if they were robbed, one of them might not be searched as thoroughly.

Soon they were ready to leave. They went out the back, into the alley. They turned south, a direction that would quickly take them away from the market and the general merchant district surrounding it. “We’ll go south out of the city, and try to follow the river,” said their mother.

They bore their packs on their backs. The packs were large open bags, shaped roughly like a cone or a funnel with a large flap on top that closed over the opening. In addition to the shoulder straps was a long strap that could go over a large bulky bundle sticking out of the top of the pack and then around the forehead, to provide stability and relieve the tension on the shoulders somewhat.

Although traffic was beginning to thin with the onset of evening, they tried to move on crowded streets. As it grew darker, though, and most of the pedestrians were those out for a night’s entertainment, they decided that their packs made them too conspicuous, and they started moving down alleys and less traveled streets. They held some debate about exactly what route to take south. They could hire a boat and just move down on the river itself. But they felt that that would leave them too exposed, and that Naarka would be watching the river, or be able easily from shore workers to find out what traffic moved on the water. A similar argument applied to the road on the east side of the river, where they were now. They agreed together that at least some small indirection in their route would help – so they would cross the river by ferry and travel south down the smaller roads on the west side. If they could, it would be best to find someplace to stay put for a week or two not too far away, and hope Naarka had passed them by in his search. It would have to be very out of the way. But they had done it before.