Archive for the ‘Helots Run’ Category


March 23, 2009

Naarka drew his saber and walked steadily, unhurriedly forward. Perhaps she heard his footfalls crunching on the sandy ground, perhaps it was the fluttering of the startled chickens that caught her attention. But Teres looked up and saw him when he was still ten paces away. She froze in an instant of shocked recognition, then just as quickly as she froze, she moved into action.

She dropped the bag of feed that she had been trying to open. She had just gotten one corner a little torn, and was clutching the two sides of the sack pulling the tear open a little wider to make it easier to pour, or to reach her hand in to scoop some out and scatter on the ground. When she dropped the bag, it hit the ground with a thud. The grain absorbed the impact so that the bag deformed a little bit and then sagged over onto its side, spilling out a small mound of feed onto the ground next to the bag. It looked like it was a small animal taking a little shit.

Naarka quickened his pace just a little as he stepped over the little mound and sack and followed her through a doorway on the left. She was already running through the rooms. The livestock shed opened off of the pantry, into which Naarka was now stepping. Teres was already moving through the opposite door into the kitchen, and she was already yelling the names of her sons – not in a frantic, panicked voice, but a clear, prepared-sounding voice, a voice that carried without being overly loud – like a stage actor’s, or an a capella singer’s – “Cal! Bil! CAL. BIL.”

Naarka could almost see them in his minds eye, looking up from whatever dirty hulking machine over which they were hunched, instantly recognizing the situation and their danger in it. Naarka sighed to himself. Perhaps he should have shot Teres from a distance with the gun. He was not a very good shot, but he might have at least kept her from running. But oh well. This is what felt right at the time. This was the way he wanted to do it. He had begun to form a personal philosophy in the past few years, largely through this whole experience with Dal and his family, that if you did not follow at least some of your whims, perhaps the majority of them, then you were dead. Or to put it another way, you were only alive in proportion to the number of your own whims that you followed.

He was moving into the kitchen now. He could still see Teres, though she was moving a bit further from him, since she was running and knew the house, and he was just walking, though walking quickly, and he had to get his bearings with each room.

As he stepped into the kitchen he saw a woman with dirty-blonde jaw length frizzled hair look up from the counter next to the sink in a far corner of the room. This woman was watching Teres run through the far door, and then this woman turned to look at Naarka. A look of intense anger crossed her face, distorting it like a band of hot air distorts a summer road. She grabbed a large kitchen knife, and started rushing toward Naarka, then stopped, slowed, and started approaching more cautiously. In the few seconds it took this woman to pass through these stages, Naarka pulled the gun out of its holster witt his left hand and with that  same hand he fired into the woman’s torso. Or towards it, since with his left hand he was an even worse shot. He could feel the recoil spraining his wrist. That would hurt a lot later. Notwithstanding his poor left-handed marksmanship, the bullet went into the woman, at the bottom of her left ribs, just aside of the top of her belly. It was enough to stun her at least. She stopped, and grunted, and her shoulders rolled forward in a clumsy, angry shrug.

Naarka stepped forward and slid his saber between her ribs above the bullet hole. “Ah,”, the woman said and fell backward, knocking some flour off of the table behind her. She leaned back into the floor and bumped her head, hard. Naarka stepped over her, stabbed her again through the ribs, trying to aim in to the heart, then pulled his arm back, and thrust forward again to stab her in the throat, jabbing at it two or three times for good measure. He wanted to be final about it, but he did not feel he had time for chopping anything off. He stepped back from the woman’s body on the floor there and headed again toward the door opposite the pantry, the southern door. He had lost sight of Teres. Dammit.

He went to the door and leaned out through it. It opened onto a hallway that stretched left and right, to the east and west. Naarka waited two breaths, looking up and down the hall. To the right were doorways, most of them with the doors closed in them, and at then the hallway ended in a wall. To the left were also a couple of closed doors, but then at the end the hallway turned to the right, back south. He weighed quickly. Finding Teres before she made more preparations or prepared any stratagem was heavier than caution. He quickly stepped into the hall, paused one more instant, then walked at a steady pace to the left, around the turn. Beyond which the hall was only went a short way – a few feet – before it opened onto the factory.

He could feel the heat coming out of that big room. He started walking toward it when he saw a large figure coming toward him holding a large metal rod that glowed pink and red at one end. He backed quickly into the corridor again. He sheathed his saber, and drew the gun again – into his right hand.

The figure filled the doorway at the end of the hallway, and Naarka fired, once again aiming into the torso. He could not see where the bullet went in exactly. The large man, who he now saw had close cropped salt and pepper hair and a kneaded, acne-scarred face, let out a thoughtful little sound, “mmm”, as if he were judging a cooking contest by taste. Naarka brought his left hand to his right wrist to steady his aim, held his arms out straight and aimed at the man’s head. He fired again. The man had been leaning against one wall. The bullet went into his forehead above his right eye. His expression went completely blank and he slid down the wall into a sitting position.

Naarka, after a furtive look past the sitting figure into the factory floor beyond, stepped back again and fed three more bullets into his gun. He then stepped to the doorway, leaned back against the wall and leaned into the room, stepping carefully over the red hot poker that was still held by the sitting dead man.

Naarka could not see any more people immediately, but there were a lot of tables, anvils, benches and tubs, as well as the big furnace. He stepped slowly out into the factory floor. He suddenly heard a clattering from the far side of the room. He moved over to the eastern doorway, and kicked the big sliding screen open a little further, letting in more natural daylight. A curtain on the southern side of the room was suddenly thrown back and another large gray haired man appeared from behind it. The man was holding a bucket with very thick, very padded, very rubber gloves. He swung the bucket as the screen opened, but most of the hot silver liquid splashed onto the curtain. Naarka was holding the gun with both hands now. He took careful aim and shot the old man through the throat.

Behind the old man he saw a teenager move backward in startled fear toward the wall. It was the woman’s younger son, um, Bil. Naarka moved forward to the edge of the curtain, menacing the boy with his gun, so that the boy retreated further, behind a large furnace and to the south wall and westward back along it, to where his mother appeared to be waiting. Nearer Naarka, on the northern side of the furnace stood the older son, about five paces away and holding another poker, but this one was not glowing red hot. Cal.

Naarka took a step back and holstered his gun. He wanted some more emotional resonance than the gun could give him. And there was a small component of honor, though that had mostly been satisfied with the father. For the rest of the family expediency was looked upon as justified, but a certain flair was certainly appreciated. Naarka drew his saber and advanced upon the older boy. Cal was keyed up though, or just naturally quick. He darted forward and with his own lunge knocked the saber to Naarkas left with a hard swing with the poker, and then somehow faster than Naarka could figure out he had grabbed Naarka’s arm and was trying to wrestle him. Naarka struggled. He thought he could break free without injury, but the kid was not pressing his advantage, instead the kid was pulling him eastward. That seemed to be his whole aim. Naarka tried to leverage this and started running in the same direction, he could feel the surprise through the kid’s arms. From somewhere he heard a woman yell, “Wait, there!”, which he did not understand, but the kid started digging in his feet, and pushing him back. Then the kid tried to break free. He did briefly, but Naarka managed to snatch one of the kid’s arms back, and that is when the large blade used for cutting plate glass came down and cut off Naarka’s head, and with it the arm of Cal’s that Naarka had been holding. His left arm.

Cal statrted screaming in pain, and then it became a long, long loud yell of anger.



March 22, 2009

Naarka walked back down and rolled up his sleeping bag again, then put it in his pack. He briefly thought about leaving it there, but then quickly thought better of it. He would take it with him as far as the building, and stash it by a corner or something – someplace easy to find again where he could either get it on his way out, or come back for it later.

He shrugged the pack over his shoulders and on to his back. He set out walking, continuing the previous day’s course. Upon his figuring he was pretty much directly north east of the compound. So he headed south west, aiming for the middle of the north wall. He walked calmly, almost casually. He wanted to avoid detection, but he did not fear it. Nor anything else.

Around mid-day the wall came into view. It bore no distinguishing features. No hand-holds or ladders studded its face. No dunes reached to its top. No doorway or other entrance broke its uniformity. Naarka decided to wait until nightfall to investigate it at lose range. He stopped at a dune about a hundred meters away, unrolled his pack just on the opposite side from the compound, and lay down for a  nap.

He dozed on and off, and woke in darkness. He rolled up his bag again and headed first to check the western wall. He walked southwest to the corner of the wall and looked around the corner. Same thing, featureless. No doorway, no entrance of any kind. No way to reach the top of the wall. He stashed his pack with the sleeping bag at the northwest corner of the building, and decided to continue his circuit counter-clockwise around the compound.

When he turned the corner to the south wall, he saw same thing: no features, no entrances, no holes whatsoever. He walked on eastward to the next corner, then paused slightly. Cautious but still unafraid, and looked around the corner. Nothing and no one stirred. He stepped around the corner, then stepped away eastward from the wall a bit to get a more encompassing view of the entire wall and its gate. The gate looked, simply, like two big wooden doors in a big stone wall. That was it.

Naarka walked northward along the wall, and stepped closer to the doors. They looked solid. _Hmm. Well, fuck. No easy way in._ He had not thought this through very well. The way he saw it, he had two options: wait for morning, when they would probably open the gates again, or try to climb the walls or doors with what tools he had. Both of these approaches had serious problems. As far as waiting, well that had the same problems as walking up and going straight in yesterday afternoon. Hadn’t he rejected that approach already? Well, yes, but he still might be forced to take it. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth exploring other options. And besides, now that he was already this close, he might be able to sneak in even through the front gate more easily. Maybe all he had to do was observe for a while and think. He could probably come up with something.

The problem with the second option was, frankly, that he did not bring many tools at all. _Boy_, he thought, _I did NOT think this through._ After a mental sigh, he inventoried what he had at hand. He had his weapons: gun-slash-slingshot, saber, hand knife. Then he had his sleeping bag and pack. He continued his circuit around the building – undisturbed, the gate was dark and silent  – until he came to the opposite corner where he had stashed his pack. He rummaged through it. Maybe there was a rope or something?

He stood next to the wall and ran his hand over its surface, to see if maybe it was possible for him to gouge hand and foot holds in it using something like the handle of his knife. It was solid stone. He sat down to think a bit more. He could cut his sleeping bag into strips, then tie them together to form a rope. Maybe he could tie one end to a rock, and then use his gun-slash-slingshot to fire it over the wall. But then what would anchor it for him to climb up the rope? Maybe he could fire a rock into the wall, near the top, and that would anchor it enough for him to climb up. He thought about the idea for a full five minutes before rejecting it. He didn’t trust his aim to put the end of the rope within reach of the top of the wall. He didn’t trust that it would be anchored strongly enough in the wall to hold his weight.

Reluctantly he came to the conclusion that he knew he would come to before he even walked back to his pack. He would take another nap, and wait for daylight, for then the gate would be open, and he could try to sneak in. He got his sleeping bag out of the pack, unrolled it, and climbed in again. He was hungry, and ate the one food bar that he had brought. He lay awake a long time before falling asleep again, but his mind was empty.

He woke several times – first in darkness, then finally to the graying sky of the pre-dawn twilight. Naarka was hungry again, and thirsty. He sat up in his sleeping bag, reached over to the pack, and took a swig of water. He had put into his pack a flask of water along with some food bars when he left his vehicle. It was still a little chilly. The sun came up over the horizon while he sat there drinking sparingly. It was beautiful, but he immediately felt its heat. The day was going to be very hot.

He squirmed out of the sleeping bag, rolled it up and put it into the pack. He laid the pack carefully against the western wall of the compound, just at the northern corner. He cheked all his weapons, took one more swig of water, then put the flask too in the pack. He walked east along the edge of the wall to the north eastern corner of the compound, and peered around the corner. The eastern wall was bathed in light. He looked again at the rising sun. The horizon seemed unusually close.

He looked at the east until his eyes were adjusted to the brightness. He looked at the road, and could see no one on it. He looked back at the eastern wall to see if the gate was open. From his angle of view e couldn’t tell if the doors were even there. He couldn’t even remember whether they opened inward or outward. He had forgotten to check that the night before. He started walking south, sticking close to the wall. As he got closer to the doors he could see that yes they opened inward, and they stood open.

He lifted the specs from his chest and flipped them to heat-sensing. He raised them to his face and took a look. He saw no heat source near the doors. He lowered the specs, moved closer, right next to the entrance, and stuck his head briefly past the edge. In the first brief glance he saw no one in the courtyard within. He looked again with the specs. He could see a large heat source right in the middle of the building. That had to be the furnace that lay below the large chimney. There was also a heat source almost as large off to the left, more to the side of the factory. He saw what he thought were the shapes of people moving inside the building. They looked far off. He put the specs down. He still could not see anyone. Quickly and as silently as he could he stepped in past the largeright-hand door, forward around it it and then behind it, into the angle it made with the wall of the compound.

From behind the door he looked at the building again. He saw the large doorway into the facrtory. The huge sliding door only stood a few feet open. Further to the right were some windows high up on the wall, but no more doors on this side. The building seemed to stop some ways from the northern wall, making a little side yard between the wall and the building. He Lifted up the specs again. He could see some vague shapes moving inside the building, but nothing definite. He walked slowly along the wall to the north, until he could get a good view of the the yard beyond the edge of the building.

The building dropped back to leave room for a little barnyard, in which some chickens were scratching in the dust. Naarka quickly sidled forward so that he was against the eastern edge of the building, at the corner right before it dropped back into the yard. A simple roof of wooden slats leaned above what looked to be a barn. Inside the wide, open doorway he could see chicken coops and small stables, which he guessed were for goats.

Something moved in the back of this barn. He couldn’t make it out clearly – it was still a dusky twilight within the compound’s outer wall, though the sky above was now bright. Naarka looked down at his specs, switched them to optical mode, and brought them up to his face for a closer look. He could now make out a human figure with certainty. Initially it was partially hidden by some stalls and equipment, but as it moved forward from behind them he could tell it was female. He kept watching. Now he could tell. It was Teres. From the photographs he had seen, the face matched.

He leaned back, turned, and put his back against the wall, facing east. He took a deep breath. He put the specs back down on his chest, then snapped the buttons on straps that then held it tight there, so it would not swing about when he moved. He took out his gu, and reached into another pocket of its holster to take out some bullets. He loaded the gun with four bullets, which was a full charge. The gun was really an accessory. He put it back in its holster. He drew his saber, and turned back to the barn yard shed.


March 8, 2009

Ferr is trying to make plate glass. He has been doing it with the bottles and the circles for almost ever, but of course it is very expensive. No one on this continent makes plate glass with the float process. There is some glass made that way around, but it is all imported – a process almost as expensive, especially for glass, since aside from normal transportation costs you have to make sure it doesn’t break.

Now Ferr wants to make the real smooth plate glass. He thinks there is a market for a locally produced source. He has found some books on the process from long ago, and deciphered them. Or a foreigner has visited him, wanting to know the blowing techniques for his hand crafted stuff. Ferr is afraid that this foreigner is going to go back to his homeland and then mass produce the little trinket stuff and ruin his business. Well, if he sat down and thought about it he probably will not be driven out of most of his markets – he’d be safe with the hunting lodge to the west, the frou-frou restaurants and so forth. He might lose out in the town and city markets. Anyway he thinks that he can sell the plate glass to builders, to the contractors that are putting up new buildings and renovating old ones in the city to the east. He thinks the city is standing on the cusp of a new wave of technological improvement – not a renaissance, or even a modernization but just one more layer added on top of all the others that have piled up and then rotted millennia upon millennia.

In his efforts Ferr had tried the rolling process, with little success. He was currently trying out the float process with molten tin. On the factory floor was a small set up just to test the concept: a pool of tin, and a conveyor belt leading from its edge to a large cutting blade. He had tried to divert some of the heat from the central furnace to keep the tin molten, but had wound up build a separate furnace, with its chimney cork-screwing with piping and bent ducting along the ceiling to join the main chimney.

Ferr also dealt with the suppliers who brought in the raw material: silica, lime, some metal oxides. These were rough men, coming from the mines in the middle of the desert. They always stayed a day or two and told some great great stories after the big dinners to which Ferr would treat them. When he knew they were coming he usually brought in a few prostitutes from the city.

Naarka stood at that pole and let himself grow calm. He looked around again and finally saw that there was a road leading off to the west. It was not in the best repair. It had been lain with large flat stones, some of which were broken. Naarka recognized the type of road. There were a lot of them in the suburbs and city outskirts, small townships, private estates, shopping districts, business developments. They were all about thirty years old, relics of a construction fad, and none of them were in very good shape. This one had probably been laid by a private road contractor, paid by the owners of the glass factory. Many of the large flat stones were broken, and they had not been replaced or repaired. Some of them had not been put back in the road. Perhaps the current factory owners h    ad lost whatever road laying skills there predecessors might may have had. The dunes here were low, anyway, more like short, drifts of sand than full-fledged dunes.

Naarka walked over to his vehicle. He stepped first on one of the stirrups, and then swung his leg over the fuselage and seat. He settled himself in the seat, then flexed his shin muscles to press the pedals in the stirrups to provide thrust to move the vehicle forward. He started out slowly down the westward road, and steadily picked up speed until he was going a comfortable fifty kilometers per hour.

After about twenty minutes he saw it in the distance. It shimmered into being above its own mirage. He slowed down. Now he had to decide how he wanted to do this. On the spur of that moment he decided he did not want to approach directly. Let us observe discreetly for a while first, if we can, he thought. Hmm, how to do that. He stopped the vehicle, leaned back and dug through another pack hanging off of the back left side of his vehicle. He pulled out his long-range specs, brought them to his face and peered through them. The rest of the world disappeared except for the wind playing with the hair at the back of his head. It was replaced by a far away image of a sand-colored wall against dunes, below a pale turquoise sky darkening toward dusk. In the wall he could see a gate, which was open. Hmm. If I don’t want to approach directly that means I don’t want to go through that gate. That means not coming at it from the front here. I will have to see if I can approach it from another side. And i better try to do that starting from out here. He turned his vehicle north.

He went about fifteen minutes before he hit sand dunes big enough that he realized circling in a big way with his vehicle was going to be terribly difficult without a road to circle on. Walking the rest of the way would give him more cover – he would have less to hide when he got up close. He might have more options for how he approached, from what direction. He would have to park his vehicle at some point anyway. How long was the walk going to take him? Would he even get there by nightfall? Hmm. Maybe it would be better to just go in directly, guns blazing if he had to. But that might give them warning, if they were in the back, he could be delayed by the people there, and they could slip away again. He did not want to have to hunt them down again. This would be it, by the gods. Okay. If he got there at night, then so much the better. But he might have to camp out. He would have to think carefully about what supplies to bring from the vehicle. He was going to wind up looking like one of these fucking fugitives, hauling a big pack around. Oh well, it could not be helped. There is a price to be paid for doing things the right way, as his dear old father used to say – or he might have, anyway.

He gunned the vehicle’s engine till it made up over the next dune, then banked it to a stop in the valley on the other side. He would have to make it easy for him to find this thing again, too – but moderately difficult for others to find. He parked the thing, and went to the packs hanging off the back. He pulled out a thin tarp with a bit of desert camouflage. He pulled out a line-of-sight radio finder. He pulled out a thin, mylar sleeping bag. He pulled out a backpack. He pulled out the gun and its holster. He pulled out a short sword – basically a really long knife. And his hand knife.

He pulled the tarp over the vehicle, hooking the hooks that were on its edges to the edges and corners and wires of the vehicle itself. He did not stake it into the ground. It was one unit with the vehicle – they could both blow away together. He made sure the sleeping bag was rolled up and put it in the backpack. He had some food bars; he put those in the bag too. He strapped on the holster with its gun, and the scabbard with the short saber. His hand knife he always had in a holster on his leg.

He picked up the two pieces of the line of sight radio finder. Line of sight. He looked around. He could… or could he? Could he put the home unit on top of the of one of the dunes and expect it to stay there, in line of sight? Should he rig an antenna to the vehicle? Either one would mark out his vehicle, which he had just tried to hide – but there was no help for it. He undid the tarp and pulled a tripod assembly out of one of the packs, then put the tarp back again. He climbed to the top of the dune he had just crossed to get here and planted the tripod assembly there. Fuck it, he would just have to take his chances. If the tripod got knocked over, moved, or buried, he would just have to find his way back to his vehicle on his own, using his own internal sense of direction. He set up the tripod, put the base unit on it, switched it on, and then picked up the portable unit. He flipped its switch on to silent light and then waved it at the home antenna. The light went on when it was pointed directly at it. Okay, good. He set out walking to the east.

The dunes and their valleys went north and south, and he wanted to go west. It was slow going, walking up the dunes and skittering down the other side. The long-range specs dragged heavily on his neck and swung against his check at each stride. At the top of each dune he lifted the specs to his face to check the position of the factory. He moved in a southwesterly direction, toward what he figured would be the middle of the north side of the factory. At each check he picked up more detail of the factory. He checked for movement as well as for position. The detail he was getting was not heartening. It didn’t look like there was anything other than the one gate on the east side, the surrounding wall was fairly tall. He had not thought to bring anything he could use to scale the wall.  He would have to improvise. Perhaps the dunes would pile right up to the top of the wall like a ramp, and he could just walk right up. But then he noticed that the dunes were getting smaller.

He scanned further with the specs. There was a natural wall of stone a kilometer or so away from the factory to its west, acting as a natural windbreak. The dunes in their creeping flow broke to either side of this wall, like the waves of the sea turning at a harbor’s breakwater. He had reached an area where he could use his vehicle again, easily. If he had it. He stopped and thought for a while about how to best approach the compound. The ground was too open and exposed. He decided to wait until nightfall to approach. He had his sleeping bag after all – he might as well get some rest. He unrolled it and climbed in, making sure he was out of sight behind a dune. He set up the hood for cover from the sand that might blow during the night. It was still daylight out and thus rather hot. He lay looking up out of his little mesh canopy and thought about the confrontation to come. Man was it hot. It was easy to become drowsy when it was this hot.He drifted off to sleep. When he woke up again it was dark.

When he woke up again, mind still stuck in the molasses of a long nap, it was night. Thousands of stars scattered in the dark before him. There wasn’t enough wind during the sunset and early night to even dust his sleeping bag. that was good news for his rang finder slash homing beacon. He undid the canopy and crawled out of the sleeping bag. There was no wind at all. He climbed to the top of the north-eastern dune top and checked the radio finder. The little red flash in his palm told him it was still working. He skittered back down the dune face to his sleeping bag, rolled it back up and put it back in his pack. He took his specs to the top of the south-westerly dune. He switched them to infra-red. There was nothing. The chimney glowed with a fading heat, but the walls were blank. He couldn’t see through them to see any heat signatures of people.


February 1, 2009

So Naarka walked out of the tent, squinting in the bright sunlight and heavy with his just eaten lunch. As he walked over to his vehicle, the sand and gravel crunched and shifted beneath his feet, making him a little nauseated in the heat.

Reaching his vehicle, he swung his leg over the seat, bent down his head to take the leather string from around his neck and slipped it over his head, almost tangling it in his long, dirty, almost clumped but not yet dread-locked hair. He slipped the four prongs of his key into the sun-warmed fuselage, about a decimeter in front of his crotch, where it started to bulge out and up to meet the steering column. He pushed down on the front foot pad and the vehicle jumped up and bobbed slightly in the air.  The air immediately below the vehicle’s hover pads became slightly clearer than the air around it – in fact the other air grew fuzzier. The clear air was acting as a lens. The gravel right under the hover pads appeared slightly larger, like the small stones at the bottom of a fish tank. Naarka had the feeling that if he kicked that gravel underneath his vehicle’s pads it would drift only slowly back to the ground as if it were immersed in water. He couldn’t see the front light that was automatically turned on in when the vehicle started, but he knew it was there.

He stood straight in the stirrups and leaned his body to add extra power to his turning of the steering column, and arced the vehicle along a sharp turn through the gap in the rope marking the citizen’s parking area and then slowly down the lane of the large parking area, carefrul not to hit the smelly animals or helots pf the caravans to either side. He didn’t want to damage his vehicle or waste time with disputes over damage or injury.

He swung the vehicle left and out into the road heading south. He pulled his woolen scarf up from around his neck where it sat baggy and loose most of the time and he pulled it up over his mouth and nose. He used the adhesive pads which lined it every few centimeters on one side (which he thought of as the ‘skinward’ side) to stick it comfortably to his face. He reached into a small thin rectangular holster on his belt, snapped its button open and pulled out his driving glasses, goggles really, and put them on as well to protect to finish the protection of his face from the dust and sand flying in the wind and off the road. The only traffic to kick up dust was himself, streaming alone and lonely but expectant down the empty road to the south. It was going to be about forty-five minutes before he reached the turn off to the access road which led to the factory wherein lived his prey, maybe. He had some more time to settle the volcano of thoughts inside him, the tornado of ideas swirling inside his cranium.

But nothing came to him. He thought no big thoughts. He had no big ideas on the ride down there. Most of his consciousness was taken up with pure anticipation. And when his mind could no longer handle that, when he grew tired or overloaded or bored with it, he couldn’t tell which, his mind just drifted. To the landscape around him. He wondered about the physical laws that underlay the formation of the particular shapes of the dunes around him. Were other shapes possible, and by what means? Differently shaped granules of sand or dust? Were differently shaped granules even possible? Could you have a a desert made of needles of sand rather than grains of sand? What kind of phsyical process would produce something like that? What about flakes? What if the sand were magnetic, or had some property where that made it very viscous when acting as a fluid – if the grains stuck to each other very well but didn’t stick to anything else well? Or vice versa? Would the shapes of the dunes be different then? What about a different kind of wind, rather than a different kind of sand?

He saw a few scraggly shrubs and flowers by the side of the road and wondered what their names were. How long of a ride was this? How far away did that stupid helot say it was going to be? It seemed longer than forty minutes already. He should start to be on the lookout for that stupid pole with the stupid colored glass at the top. Now he had to engage his attention and look for it, and look for it, and look for it. God this was gonna wear him out. It was already wearing him out, looking for this damn fucking thing. What a stupid way to mark the road, what a stupid way to advertise your fucking business. Was that it ahead? A tall thin object? No, that was a tree. Which was not long after all. Stunted in fact. Stunted and twisted in the desert. I wonder what its name is, he thought. I wonder if I give a flying fuck. I wonder if anyone in the world cares. He felt like stopping to take a piss on the tree just to show how pissed he was at it for not being the gad-damn pole with the fairy-ass-fucking blown glass on top of it.

But he kept on going. Was that it? Yes. Yes, it had to be. Naarka slowed and approached the pole at a crawl. It was a long pole, but there was no glass bowl a the top. No sphere. There were no glass shards or debris on the ground near the pole either. It looked like it might be a flag pole. The remains of a rope hung dead from a metal cleat near the top of the pole. He looked to the west. The landscape didn’t look like it bore a road. It looked like simple desert. It was slightly flat – that is, the dunes were slightly lower than elsewhere, but they were still fucking dunes. Hmm. The dunes were only two or three feet high – his vehicle could drive across them. Maybe they turned into a road? Maybe someone shattered the glass sphere long ago, so that the glass was buried by the sand? Maybe they stole the fucking thing like that guy was bitching about?

Naarka figured he had better give it a try. He turned his vehicle to the west and started moving slowly over the undulations that made him lean back and then far forward in his seat.

He only went a couple of kilometers before giving up. The dunes quickly grew too large for his vehicle to handle. He looked again to the north and south, and he couldn’t see any where else where he should have or even could have turned off to expect a road in this cacaphonic madness of featureless waves of sand. He turned back and headed back to the north-south road.

When he saw the road again and realized he wasn’t lost, he became quite pissed. He turned south again. As his anger flared, so did a deep sense of uncertainty akin to dread. If the man who told him about the side road was mistaken, or had misled him in some way, then what about what he had said about the glass factory? Would he have to go back to that eatery and kill that stupid helot for being a liar? What a pain. These doubts swept through him, physically pushing him sideways. Or, no – that was the wind. He looked up and again scanned the horizon for signs of a storm, and there it was about a kilometer ahead. A pole with something round at the top.

He slowed as he neared it. The wind was at a mild but respectable strength now, blowing dust but not yet blowing large amounts of sand. It didn’t obscure his vision. He drove in a slow circuit around the pole to examine it. He stopped. He did not turn off his vehicle, but he swung his leg over and stepped off. It bounced and bobbed, twisting slightly askew but quickly righting itself. He stepped over to the pole, and pulled the front of his pants down, took his dick out and propelled a steady stream of urine at the pole.

He played the stream up, down and side to side while standing still himself. His right hand, on his cock, guided the urine, and his left held his pants down. Finally the stream petered out. He shook off the last droplets with a few flicks of his right wrist, stuffed his cock back and let the waistline of his pants snap to his waist again. He reached down to his crotch again and from the outside of his pants re-arranged his cock for for a little more comfort. Well, he thought to himself, That was a pretty childish thing to do. Was he less angry now? Yes. Yes he was. He was less angry because he was more embarrassed and more ashamed. His shame had crowded out his anger, but now he felt himself starting to grow angry over the shame. Why should he be ashamed of something like that? It was just stupidly funny, amusingly stupid. Why should this god-damn situation, these god-damn helots, drive him to such infantile behavior? Fuck them. God-damn them.

He stood still and looked up at the top of the pole. Now he wanted to do something to that glass ball up there, that signpost or advertisement. Naarka felt that it was presumptuous. It had to come down. He felt a brief pang of premature regret or even trepidation that he might be found out as the vandal, but the pang was articulated in a dim corner of his mind which he did not understand very well, though it sometimes forced his attention to itself.

He walked back over to the vehicle, looked around the body, leaned over it to look at the other side and then found then the pack he was looking for. He unzipped the pack, reached in and pulled out a gun. It had both a chamber for launching bullets, and it was also a slingshot: on top was a little box that took rocks, buttons, what have you. Anything handy that was about half-fist sized or smaller could be aimed and launched at violent speeds. It would be nowhere near as accurate, as forceful, or of the range of an actual bullet from the same gun, but still very annoying if you were in its way. After looking around Naarka found a rock on the ground near the pole. He put the rock in the box and made sure there was enough charge in the explosive chamber feed. He held the gun with his right hand and held his right wrist with his left hand. He aimed up at the smoky green globe streaked with milky white and pulled the trigger. Instantly the orb shattered. It shrugged and hung in the air indecisively for a second, then all the many pieces it had become came falling to earth, faster as they dropped.

Naarka threw his upper right arm in front of his eyes to shield them from the shower of glass. Oh shit – Wow, that was stupid to do that while I’m standing under the fucking thing. However he was not injured, and he enjoyed seeing up close the pieces of glass hit the sand and splash a little bit, as if they were hitting water. The sand thrown up hung in the air as a small fog of dust. In contrast and tone it was reminiscent of a spring morning’s mist, but in a a dull beige rather than a vibrant green. The little cloud drifted lazily away in the slackened wind.

Naarka had thought, before he shot it down, that he would pick up a large piece to appraise it, to look at the handiwork that went into it, and to see possible enemy through his works. But no pieces were really big enough to be worth picking up, and right now after the excitement of shooting it he didn’t particularly feel like cutting his fingers on any of it. So, Fuck it, he thought.


January 5, 2009

Bil and Cal continued with their odd-jobs around the factory. They started in the kitchen: peeling potatoes and carrots, taking out the trash, feeding the animals that were kept in the yard. Then they were asked to clean up the factory, picking up debris, cleaning equipment and returning it to storage. Cal was put on some of the more arduous tasks of the factory. He dealt with some of the heavier equipment, and he started to tend the furnace.

As they became more accustomed to the place, they got the miscellaneous work done quickly. Ferr began to look for something more substantial for them. Since most of the other factory workers has assigned jobs already, Ferr put the two boys to work on new projects – the stuff for which he couldn’t spare his other workers. The newest project was the rolled plate. Ferr had rigged up a cylinder over which he poured molten glass. The glass dripped from the cylinder in a uniformly thin sheet onto a conveyor belt. When it cooled off a bit, but not completely, a huge blade came down and sliced it into large panes. By adjusting the time of the cutting, he could get panes of varying lengths. The width was determined by the length of the cylinder. Currently Ferr was experimenting with different compositions of glass to get a stronger pane, something that wouldn’t collapse under its own weight.

Naarka rode down the road, searching for the landmark the trader had described to him. He left the eatery outwardly calm. Excitement rose coldly inside him as ice rises up a thin cylinder as water freezes within it.

He calmly asked his questions of this non-citizen. The trader could see the cold fire in Naarka’s eyes growing slowly, steadily brighter with each answer. When Naarka had enough information, he walked slowly back to his table, calmly figured the bill, and sat down to wait patiently for change.

While waiting he tried to plan what his next move. His thoughts were frenzied. He was too excited. As he waited for change he tried to calm the tornado raging through his skull. What could he plan, really? He was going to go down there, that much he knew. What he would do when he got there – how could he know until he was there? He would evaluate the situation once he arrived.

He scooped up his change as the young boy in beige cotton leggings and a dark brown sweater came and gave it to him. Even though the waiter’s slightly greasy hair had killed Naarka’s appetite he left a medium coin for a tip.  As he got up, he shoved his chair back and looked at it for the first time. The chair was a fold of metal that looked like it had been extruded and then twisted and pressed in a tortuous kind of way – like the metal had sufferd actual pain to be put into the shape it found itself in now. The metal might still have been in pain, sacrificing its own comfort in order to give comfort to Naarka.

Naarka turned and rubbed the grit on the floor under his boot as he walked to the door. He could almost feel every grain though the many millimeters of rubber sole and then the cotton of his sock as well.

It was dusky inside the eatery, which was basically a large tent, and daylight could be seen through the woven strands of the tent wall and roof. But the amount of that filtered through those patches wasn’t enough to actually illuminate the inside. It was lit with electric lights over by the counter. Additional light spilled through the flap leading to the kitchen, which the waiter boys kept scampering in and out of. Also, candles stood on the tables and oil lamps on stands here and there between tables.

The interior light seemed to only illuminate the bottom half of the the tent, so that there was a cloud-like cover of darkness hovering over the dining patrons. Naarka walked under the cafe’s dusk, almost subconsciously ducking underneath it as he walked to the flap entrance. This was pinned open, so that a triangle of brightness thrust a little way inside. He stepped into this triangle, which he thought would somehow prepare him for the brightness of the full-on day, but it didn’t. He grabbed the edge of the flap to steady himself as he ducked through it and out into the yard.

There was really nothing else within easy walking distance of this thing. It was much too far north of where the warehouses along the river had ended. Here was past where the road curved to the northwest. The large field that served as the parking lot was scattered with the pack train of the trader Naarka had talked to, and the vehicles and animals and retinue of the rest of the customers – a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells. Naarka’s vehicle was parked near the tent, in a little area roped off near for the personal vehicles of citizens. Most citizens traveled in personal or family vehicles separate from their retinue. There were only two or three other citizen’s vehicles parked there. The eatery sat several dozen, and only about half the seats were filled inside. There weren’t a lot of citizens eating there, then quite a few helots. The lot was full of other members of retinues – some were helots catching the sun, or the air, or a nap. A lot of them couldn’t even be allowed inside the eatery: chattel slaves and barbarian foreigners. These did their own cooking. Awnings were unfolded from the sides of wagons, cooking tables set up, portable burners fired up, even some wood and charcoal fires started on the ground or in brick or stone pits that were either set up makeshift on the spot with bricks or stones that were carried with the caravan especiallay for the purpose, or in masoned pits that put were there by the management for this very purpose.

Naarka got on his vehicle and maneuvered through this throng outwardly calm. He rode down the road, searching for the landmark the trader had described to him.  Excitement rose coldly inside him as ice rises up a thin cylinder as water freezes within it.


September 23, 2008

The rest of that day they spent resting, and on the next they started to work. Teres worked in the kitchen for a while, then switched to laundry. She began sewing – mending, and then making new clothes for the residents of the compound. However, she did not yet use any of the the cloth that they saved from their market stall and brought with them.

Cal and Bil both started out by cleaning up – around the house, around the factory floor. Bil started reading the textbooks he had brought with him, and he was helped by one of the men who worked there, Den, who took an interest in him. Den was the man with salt and pepper hair whom they had seen in the cafeteria the night of their arrival.

Everyone at the factory seemed to know their situation, and to be sympathetic. They didn’t feel any danger of being turned in or reported on. Interactions with the outside world were few. From time to time the compound received deliveries of goods – groceries and other supplies – cloth, now that Teres was there – shoes, et cetera. Occasionally Ferr and Med would go out shopping and come back with a big cart-load of supplies. And customers would come to the factory to negotiate orders with Ferr, and then later they would come to pick them up. The buyers were either people from the markets, or people from the restaurants or restaurant supply houses.

Naarka, after his night at the whorehouse with the prostitute, came back to the ferry crossing in the morning and crossed with his vehicle. He went south first, and stopped at every hostel and most eateries for several kilometers. Finally he came to a bridge over a gorge which collected tolls. If they went south, they had to pay at this toll station – there was no other way past the gorge except down into it somehow, which would take a large detour – he didn’t think they had the supplies for that. He inquired there to see if they had crossed the bridge. the first person he talked to didn’t know. He waited, camped out nearby, until he was pretty sure he talked to everyone on every shift of working that fuckig toll. None of them remembered seeing a middle-aged woman and two-teen-aged sons. Just because these know-nothing peons didn’t remember didn’t mean the family didn’t in fact cross the bridge, but he had had no whisper of them anywhere he had stopped. So it was beginning to seem unlikely that they had gone south.

Time was running out. He had already lost over a week. He turned back north, gunning the motor of his vehicle in frustration. He began looking suspiciously at every private home now, but he really couldn’t stop at each one. Even logistically that made no sense, besides the embarrassment and damage to his family’s reputation if he intruded on a citizen. So he raced back to the ferry stop and then began working his way north, stopping at every eatery, hostel and hotel to ask around. He was getting discouraged. He was actually north of the little access road which led to the glass factory compound, when he stopped at a restaurant and overheard two travelers talking. They were discussing the glass factory. One of them mentioned that as a side deal while buying glass, he had also managed to sell some cloth there. something about the mention of cloth selling tugged at Naarka’s under thoughts. The traveler continued that in fact he had sold cloth there before, low-quality cotton, but this last trip they had started buying higher-quality linen. He had dealt with someone new there, a woman who really knew what she was talking about with cloth, and was a hard bargainer. It then connected for Naarka. The stall at the market, the family’s stall – they sold cloth.

He walked over and started questioning the two travelers about their conversation, “What are you two talking about now?” Since the two travelers were not citizens, they answered his questions politely.

The one with the story spoke first. He bowed his head slightly as he said,  “Citizen, good day.” He then looked up, looking Naarka full in the face as he continued. This irritated Naarka. The trader seemed to be holding a secret behind his eyes, and his expression intimated that it was Naarka’s secret he was holding – which was even more irritating. However Naarka didn’t have time to indulge his irritation. The hunt for this family pushed everything else in his mind aside.

“We were just discussing some recent business of ours,” continued the trader. He stretched out his vowels, especially the a’s, and his k’s sounded slightly dirty: a buzz instead of distinct click. This accent placed his origin to the west – but whether past the mountains Naarka couldn’t tell.

“Go on,” said Naarka. “You sold some cloth?”

“Citizen, yes. At Ferr’s glass factory.”

“Glass factory?”

“Citizen, yes. It is a few kilometers to the south of here, to the west of the north-south road.”

“And you sold cloth there?”

“Citizen, yes. Some linen.”

“And you sold it to a woman?”

“Citizen, yes.”

“Do you know here name?”

“Citizen. I do. Her name was Teres.”

“Do you know if this woman had any sons?”

“Citizen, I do not know. She did not mention her childrenn in or converation, and I did not ask about children in our conversation.”

“And where exactly did you say this glass factory was?”

“Citizen, go about four kilometers south. There is an access road that opens west off of the main north-south coast road. The access road is marked by a long pole sticking out of the ground with a piece of blown glass sitting on top of it – a large green globe.”


September 7, 2008

Teres could finally think about food. Med suggested some sausage. That’s what had been served for breakfast. If she would like to eat some, it was already prepared. Or if not that, maybe some eggs, some bread, perhaps with some jelly.

All of the others in the compound had already eaten, having got up early as part of their routine. Teres and her two sons, however, were exhausted – after all, they had walked through a sand storm. Teres asked Med, “By the way, was there any damage to the factory due to the storm?”

“No, there wasn’t,” Med answered. “The surrounding compound wall makes us almost oblivious to all but the largest sandstorms. It’s one of the reasons it’s there, after all. We did see that it got a little darker in the middle of the day yesterday. That’s how we usually know there’s a storm.”

Teres went back to the room where their beds had been set up on the floor to see if her two sons were up yet. Bil was awake, sitting on his bedroll and staring at the woven wall hanging above the couch.

“You’re up,” said Teres, as she swung the door open and walked into the room.

“Yeah,” said Bil listlessly.

“Are you ready for breakfast? Would you like some kaf?” Bil didn’t usually drink kaf, not at home. But of course, he realized once more at that minute, there was no home anymore. He suddenly felt an urge to cry, but he tried to hold it off by squinting. He looked up at his mother and saw that she actually seemed somewhat cheered, or a little relieved – at any rate in a better mood than he had seen her since he had run up into the stall with the news that their house was burning, their life in that city was over, and that hours or minutes away, unless they ran, and even maybe if they did, their death was chasing them.

He swallowed, and nodded. Teres stepped into the room, leaned down over Cal and gently touched his shoulder. “Cal,” she said softly. Cal opened his eyes. He had been sleeping only lightly. He looked directly up at the ceiling, just where his head was when he opened them. He didn’t move his head at all to look at the voice that woke him. “Cal,” she said again. “Are you ready to get up? Did you sleep enough? Are your dreams ready to let you go?”

Cal brought his arms up out of the covers and rubbed the mucous out of his eyes. He then sat upright sat still for a moment, staring blankly into space. “Yeah. I’m up,” he said.

“Come to the cafeteria.” said Teres. “Well, first let me talk to you two. I just had a ..conversation with Med. It’s clear that they understand our situation. I think Med knows the risks of us being here, but she is still willing to let us stay. I think we can stay here for several months if we want. I’m not sure but this place may be out of the way enough for us to be able to do that safely. I told her of course we would earn our keep, but I don’t yet know yet what kind of work they would have for us. Anyway, we know that we have to do whatever is in front of us, right. … What do you boys think? do you have anything you want to say about it?”

Bil hadn’t expected to be asked his opinion in any decisions that would be made regarding what they would do. He had expected his mother to make all those decisions. He trusted her to make them, so that in turn he didn’t have to put any thought into them. But now that she asked him, it made sense. It seemed only natural. Still, he looked to Cal first.

Cal felt Bil’s look on him, added to his mother’s. “I think we’re lucky to have run across this place, that’s what I think. Though I don’t think I’m awake enough to think anything very clearly.” Then it was Cal’s turn to look at Bil and expect him to say something.

“Uh, yeah” said Bil, scratching his head. “I don’t think I have anything to add to that. If you think we can trust ’em, mother.”

Teres looked serious as she weighed her responsibility. “Yes, I think we can.” She looked from Bil to Cal and back again. “All right then. Let’s go eat, shall we?”

The three of them got up and walked down the hall to the cafeteria-cum-dining room. Med was in there and had brought out some plates of sausage, bread with jelly, and three plates of fried eggs – one each for Teres, Cal, and Bil. They ate ravenously.

Med stayed and watched them eat. she did not attempt any further questioning or conversation; she only spoke to ask if they needed more food, which she then fetched. She left as they were finishing. A few minutes later, Ferr passed through the dining room and swept them up behind him in a whirl wind tour of the factory.

“This is a glass factory,” he explained as he took them first onto the main shop floor, which they had seen the evening before through the big hangar bay doors as they sat on their packs in the courtyard. He showed them the big furnace in the center of the floor. He showed them where the craftsmen worked. Each had their own separate little area where they could concentrate on their own specialty, but each had easy access to the big red furnace at the center of everything.

“You see how we make a lot of small household items, the plates that you all used in the dining room, cups, glasses, bottles, vases and so forth. That gives us the bulk of our income. We sell to little shops throughout the city and some of the surrounding towns. It’s a bit of a tourist item, but we also supply some restaurants and hotels and that sort of thing. But, I have a little pet project of my own that I’m working on. What I’d like to do is supply windows to a lot of the large building in the city, to do big large paned windows, doors and so forth. It’s really difficult to do that as a single craftsman, by blowing don’t you see, there’s really a limit to the surface area that you can do. And getting a uniform thickness, that’s really really difficult when you’re blowing glass the way you would to make a bottle or something like that. What you really want to do is produce glass by rolling. Usually that’s done in a much bigger and more technically equipped facility than what we have here. But i would like to see if we can do it. We would probably be the first shop our size to produce rolled glass. That’s what i would like to see us try to do, anyway.”

Teres, Cal and Bil were impressed, but didn’t really follow what he was talking about at all. He led them back to Med and went back to supervise things on the shop floor. Med showed them around the kitchen, and the the barn, where they kept chickens and goats, to reduce the amount of animal products that they needed to buy from the market in the city or have delivered.

They learned a little bit of the geographic situation of the factory as well: it was set far back from the road, about three or four kilometers, reached by a tiny east-west access road, with nothing else on it. They were just a little north of the east west line that would have gone through the center of the city. The north south road at this point was actually pretty far west of the city anyway, since the river curved a little east of it and the road started to curve away west before it hit the coast about a hundred kilometers to the north and swung completely west.

After showing them around, Med left them alone for the rest of the day to get settled. They were assigned small rooms – Teres had her own room and Bil and Cal shared another. They unpacked some of their things. They bathed. They did laundry. They rested from their physical, mental and emotional exertions of the past two or three days.


September 7, 2008

She stepped out of the room and into the early-morning cool of the hallway. The floor was the color of wet clay, but with a sheen of reflectivity polished onto it. She turned to head for the only place she knew how to get to – the dining hall. There was a faint sound of machinery and workers’ shouts, almost beyond perception, coming from the shop floor several rooms away.

She stepped quietly down the hall, tentative a bit in her foot falls – not wanting to make too much noise, but not wanting to sneak up on anyone easily startled.

She turned left at the small hallway to the dining room which she remembered from the night before. The door was slightly ajar. Teres pushed it and , looking into the room beyond she thought at first it was empty. She took two steps forward to be half in the door, and then she saw that Med was sitting at the closest table on the right, sipping kaf out of a cup and looking through papers that she had spread out in four or five piles in front of her on the table. Teres took two more steps into the room before Med noticed her.

“Oh, good morning,” said Med with a lift of her head and a widening of her eyes. A slight smile broadened and lifted her mouth. She wore the look of a concerned hostess. “There is kaf if you would like it,” Med continued, starting to get up and looking toward the counter, where a samovar had been set up and was waiting for customers.

Teres raised her hand plaintively, “No, don’t get up. I can get it,” she said and turned and walked toward the counter. Med sat back down and, looking steadily at Teres, and considered her. Finally now that the morning had come, she did have some questions to ask, though not the ones that Teres feared. She waited until Teres had gotten her kaf and sat down before she asked them.

Teres walked over to the counter. Ceramic cups were stacked in three or four columns, two or three cups high. She lifted one off of its stack, and as she flipped it over she marked how its weight slightly distended her fingers when she caught it right-side up. The heft was conforting in its familiarity. She lifted it to the spigot on the front of the samovar. The valve on the spigot was kind of a corkscrew – she had to twirl it. It moved upward as she did so, and the hot water fell out the bottom of the valve assembly. When her cup was as she gauged about two-thirds full, she started twirling the valve closed again. To right of the stacks of cups and the samovar was a bowl of kaf capsules. She took two and dropped them into her cup. Next was a bowl of clear granules, in large, millimeter long crystals.

“If you like sweetwater, there are some sweetwater crystals in that bowl,” interrupted Med. Teres didn’t even shake her head, she just turned and brought her cup over to the table where Med was sitting, and sat down opposite. Med smiled warmly again. “What can i get you for breakfast?”

Teres smiled too, and shook her head. “Nothing, really. Thank you. At least, not yet. I’m still too sleepy even to think about food.” She sat still for a full minute, and her smile faded as she stared blankly at the table top. She brought the cup to her lips, pursed them, and tipped the cup just enough for the liquid to kiss them briefly. She didn’t really want to sip it – she just wanted to test the temperature, and to see if any of the kaf had yet dissolved.

“I hope you don’t mind not having the sweetwater already in the kaf. I don’t really like sweetwater – I think it’s bad for my teeth. I realize it’s a bit of an inconvenience to have the kaf capsules dissolve that much more slowly, but I can deal with it. I figure most people can.” Med explained, somewhat purposelessly.

Teres smiled a worried smile under deply tired, deeply worried eyes. She blinked slowly, and siad, “Of course I don’t mind.”

“So,” said med, getting down to the point. Teres tensed visibly in her shoulders. “How…” began Med slowly, “How… long do you think you will need to stay with us?”

Teres looked into Med’s eyes, and knew that she knew. She was certain that Med knew exactly what their situation was, and that Med would do what she could do to protect her, without endangering her own family. Teres wasn’t sure exactly how far she could trust Med, but she had a pretty good idea. She thought carefully about what to day next.

“Well…” she began, just as slowly as Med had begun, “Well.. we would of course be grateful to accept your hospitality for as long as we could…” She wasn’t sure where to take it next. Med obviously knew the general situation she was in, and thus understood the specific difficulties she faced in this situation right here right now. She must also understand why Teres was having difficulty coming up with what to say next.

Med tried to help her out, prompting, “Do you think you will need to stay here for more than a month?”

Teres locked her gaze on Med’s eyes. Truly, Med understood her position well – very well, perhaps even better than Teres herself did. “It may be the most beneficial course for us to stay here for that long, if…”

“If your presence here is not advertised?”

“You understand our situation well. Of course, we could not accept charity for that long. If we can make ourselves useful, and earn our keep, we would be grateful to impose on you for that long.” And she thought, Translation: we will trust you to hide us for that long.

“Have you… traveled… far enough… that you could stay longer than that?” Translation: How close is your pursuer? How much of a lead do you have on him?

“I think if we found ourselves here for more than two months then it would be time for us to move on.” Translation: He is very close. We still have to build our lead over him by a substantial amount before we can start thinking about not running for any considerable length of time. And, of course, this puts you, Med, at risk. If he’s that close behind us, he may be able to do some investigating in this area and learn where we are. And if he discovers us here being sheltered by you, you would be in danger. Not only of retribution, but also of being destroyed because you were in the way, and he needed to clear you like brush to get to us.

Med understood all of this in the single sentence, and the glance that went with it.

“I see,” she said, nodding her head and letting it soak in. Well, she had already made her decision. She felt like reaching out her hand and touching Teres’s. But didn’t. That that would somehow break the code they had slipped into over the past few minutes. “Well,” she finally continued, “You are welcome to stay here until you feel you need to leave. This house welcomes you, this family welcomes you. This workshop welcomes you, this community of craftsmen and craftswomen welcomes you.”

“I…” Teres hesitated, then went on, “realize how much of an imposition this is…” She glanced up from the tabletop into Med’s eyes again, to make sure she got the understanding, acknowlegdement, maybe even empathy – for which she was asking. She found it. “Of course we cannot stay without earning our keep, as I said.”

Med beamed, finally smiling as much as she had wanted to. “Oh, don’t worry. There is plenty to do here. It won’t be difficult at all for you to earn your keep, and even more besides.”

“Now, will you think about something to eat?”

Teres released the relieved trust from the reserves in which her nervous fear had kept it locked for so many hours. It flowed through all her aching muscles and joints, and she nodded, blinking and smiling, “Yes, thank you.” She sipped the kaf which was now fully activated, the capsules having dissolved during their tense conversation.


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.