by Phyllis Huldarsdottir
Lydia stiffened. The men in the black hats had her worried. Then she saw the woman in the long black coat, blonde, taller than most men. Karla Kola. She felt a jolt of genuine fear. Serpina had noticed her alarm. She glanced to the rear of the old trolly and the back exit, the way out. She stood and inclined her head toward the gathering of black hatted agents and their blonde superintendent out the window. Serpina recognized the chief inspector and followed Lydia exiting the tram.
In their hooded work parkas they mingled with the merchants setting up their market stalls, keeping away from the officials yet uncertain in which direction to head. Lydia felt a presence behind her but before she could turn to look, a voice said, “Turn at the second arch by the vegetable stall.” It was Pyare.
He caught up with them in the shadows beyond the arch. “Quick, follow me,” and led them away from Place D’Arc toward the riverfront and the granite edifice of an old church. Once inside, they hurried toward the vestibule. Pyare led them behind the tall ornate altar with its oversized crucified figure. Pulling aside a large sideboard in an anteroom revealed an opening in the wall and plank steps leading down. Pyare handed Lydia his bacso torch as he dragged the big piece of furniture back over the hole in the wall. Once at the bottom of the stairs, Lydia could hear water dripping and the musty earthiness of what appeared to be the beginning of a tunnel assaulted her nostrils with caustic ferocity. Serpina sneezed, and Pyare led the way. After not a considerable distance, slogging and splashing through rivulets of dank water and ducking under creeping roots and vines dripping with moss, they were met with a clear bright light to assail their dim unaccustomed eyes. Steps had been carved into the earth on the incline up and at the top a screen of river willows gave out to a slight rise overlooking the wide mudflats of the Loire.
“Quite a few temporal hiccups happened in this period globally which why it is referred to by some researchers as the Doppelganger Era.”
Pyare addressed their perplexity. “The local superintendent of the police arrested Leon at AOTA’s request shortly after we had all met with him and agreed to the plan. He will tell them everything he knows in the guise of knowing all along that you were a fugitive and that he was planning to turn you in himself. He is the mayor after all.”
“Thank you. I think.” Lydia offered, still a little skeptical. “What of the original plan? Obviously that is no longer an option.”
Pyare grinned. “There is no plan except to get you out of the old city. And with AOTA this close you will have to find a refuge where you won’t be looked for. I have friends who will take you and Serpina up into the hills, and from there you will need a guide to cross the Massif Central and to the outskirts of Autre Lyons. But in doing so we must be aware of the Clans.”
“The Clans, what are the Clans?” She didn’t hide her agitation with Pyare’s nonchalance.
“You know, the people in the white robes, the Fourierists, the phalanges.”
“The only Fourier is know is the man whose heat theories from pre-Victorian times are instrumental to the development of the bug drive. We had a whole quarter on Joseph Fourier’s laws of energy conduction at the Academy.”
Pyare laughed. “No, this Fourier is the social philosopher. The clans are descendant from the phalanges of long ago, back, as you say, in pre-Victorian times but around here known as the Old Empire. Much of that history has been censored by decree of the Lord High Admiral and the Privy Council. Charles Fourier’s teachings have been suppressed and his followers arrested, You can imagine how they feel about strangers and interlopers into their redoubts in the mountains.”
“I have never heard of him. It is his relative who has world renown in the field of bioenergy.”
A strange look came over Pyare’s face and he shook his head as if to clear it. “It doesn’t matter, really, they are the same entity. A temporal slippage occurred in the mid-18th century when, as the result of a Little Bang event that had taken billions of years to reach this region of the universe, the Kandinsky bubble, named after the famed physicist who postulated the event, caused a temporal retardation that lasted almost a decade but meaningless in cosmic terms, and certain anomalies were essentially repeated. Charles and Joseph Fourier are the same person. The same essence merely entered the time stream further down the bank so to speak and kept the same surname but was realized as distinct entities in historical time, each with their own particular genius. Quite a few temporal hiccups happened in this period globally which why it is referred to by some researchers as the Doppelganger Era.”
Lydia blinked. “That’s the most outlandish story I’ve ever heard! Do you expect me to believe that. Here we are in this dire situation and you are spouting folk tales.”
Pyare blinked back and twisted his neck as if trying to straighten out a crick. “Yeah, I dunno. I guess I just knew it. Except I didn’t know that I knew it.”
Serpina sniggered and caught their attention. Pyare nodded his head in affirmation. “Of course! She’s a vessel!”
A Vessel? Lydia knew about vessels or had viewed a plasmavid documentary on one of her flights from Rio to Greater London. PVs were reserved for luxury class, all other passengers were afforded the standard public docubox broadcasts. What she could remember of the rather fantastic claims of the feature was that vessels were people with a quantum sensitivity
“You can read my thoughts?”
Serpina glared at her.
Pyare shook his head. “I don’t think she can read them. She can only send them to another. Also she can probably pick up frequencies of people she has synced with. She entangles with them. She feels what they feel at the same moment as they feel it.”
“How do you know this?”
Pyare shrugged. “I don’t know, I just do. She’s a vessel. They can do that kind of thing.”
“How do I know she’s not transmitting those thoughts to you?” Lydia looked at Serpina, her hands folded in her lap, eyes lowered.
“They can’t be her own thoughts. She’s a vessel. Besides we haven’t been in proximity long enough to be entangled.” He glanced at Serpina. “Have we?”
Serpina blushed, but Lydia wanted to know, “Then whose thoughts are they?”
“What does it matter. The Clans aren’t the only thing we have to deal with. There’s also the Boo.” Pyare pointed to the gray brown expanse of the mud flats dotted with clumps of dense vegetation. “They are treacherous to navigate. Full of sink holes and sand pits. There is no distinct path across. We will have to wait for the booters.”
“Booters? What are booters?”
“They are the people who live along the East Bank of the river in shanties in the shadow of the workers quarters of Old Orleans . They are scavengers and smugglers. Their nights are spent picking through the tourist trash in Oldest Orleans, especially after festivals and carnivals like the Victorianaisance. Some are musicians and perform in all night cabarets. What they do is not sanctioned and they can be arrested for not passing through the official checkpoints and showing the proper papers.” He pointed at the dark figures in the distance. “There are two of them now.”
“Let’s follow them!” Lydia leapt to her feet.
Pyare pulled her back. “If they see us they’ll hide, or worse, lead astray us into the deeper mud and we’d never get out. In the meantime we wait for the solitaries, the ones who travel alone. It will cost us, but there is no other choice.”
“Can we trust them? What if they betray us to the police?”
“They dislike the police more than you can imagine. They think of themselves as a free people, outside the laws of the regime. Among themselves, they are known as freebooters.”
Lydia stared out through the scrim of trees at the opposite shore and Old Orleans. She was somewhat familiar with the area from the tourist pamphlets that proliferated in kiosks at the airship ports, and had overheard airship staff chatting about their vacations in the region. The biowines were exceptional and the accommodations were extravagant yet very affordable. Oldest Orleans, the old city was the main attraction, and there was Old Orleans for the more adventuresome, all contained within the prefecture of Orleans which was the hub of international biologic industry hosting such large pharmacorps as Freud Werke and Jung Industries. And not to be confused with the Orleans of North America, Old New Orleans and the city state of Newest Orleans, an independent entity in the heart of the USSR and on the border of the backward swamp republic of Floruisabama.
Her gaze returned to Pyare and Serpina. They were not the companions she would have chosen for this misadventure, or any sort of adventure for that matter. She hadn’t in her wildest dreams imagined that she would find herself on the run from IOTA in the company of a double jointed mind reading teenage girl and an unsophisticated country boy with airship pilot ambitions. She as Doña Lydia de Belize Gutman-Cheése should have been attending galas, soirees, and salons at the Brazilian Court with her husband, Seignior Professario Cornado de Belize Gutman, on one of his infrequent visits to the Pan Rio enclaves from his research station at the headwaters of the Orinoco. But the infrequency of their time together could also be blamed on her very busy, until late, flight schedules as an airship commander.
Aerosud was one of the most fashionable and popular transport companies and consequently much in demand. She held her high status not only to her connections to the Emperor’s inner circle through her sister-in-law, but also as a competent no nonsense captain in Aerosud’s fleet of luxury liners. She’d become accustomed to the privileges that accrued in such positions despite her rather stormy pedigree. The Cheéses were renowned in the field of microbiology and medicine as well as for their outspokenness.
“To deal with this uncertainty principle I need to be predisposed. I am not particularly predisposed to you.”
She disliked tilling the soil of her past. It seemed to hold too many surprises. She had turned away in her thoughts and now considering the two of them, Pyare on his haunches peering out over the mudflats, and Serpina watching him with equal parts of fascination and infatuation.
“Serpina, I have a question.”
The young girl looked up hesitantly at Lydia who had taken her commander stance of fists on hips and imperious authoritative demeanor. “If you have to get to know someone before you can transmit to and from their. . . ,” she wanted to say “minds” but that didn’t seem precise enough, “their mental processes, why have you not used your skills on me?”
Serpina tried to hide her mischievous smirk. “The Doctor asked me not to,” and then with a frown, “And you have a challenging spin.”
“Yes, some people have an up spin which is easy to tune in to. They operate on pleasant frequencies. Others have a down spin and are not always open to reception or transmission which makes their frequencies difficult to untangle. And others have strange erratic spins that are very unpredictable. You are a down spin with a bit of strange.”
“I assure you I can be very charming under the right circumstances. I belong to the Court of Brazil!”
Serpina laughed aloud. “You don’t want to be a charm spin. They are very unstable and subject to self-destruction.”
“But you could still transmit mental states to and from me?”
Serpina shrugged. “Yes, it can be done but it would be tiresome. It is not like tuning in to a music box broadcast of popular compositions by Gell-Mann. To navigate the various frequency fields takes skill, like a pilot, but unlike a pilot, it is a skill that cannot learned. It is intuitive. These frequencies reside in the subtle body. And there are other spins that interact with the ones I’ve already explained. There is the top spin which is a dominant mode but would not exist if it were not for the bottom spin. The bottom spin maintains a drone for the various spins to harmonize with while the top spin, because of its speed, is prone to wobble and must constantly readjust its orientation to maintain a balanced harmony. These anomalies are what is transmitted and received as cogent mental matter. The top and bottom spins can also reverse themselves which makes synchronization difficult and entanglement haphazard. To deal with this uncertainty principle I need to be predisposed. I am not particularly predisposed to you. Beside the fact that Serre-Pain, who overlooks most of my antics, said not to, and I do as he asks.”
Lydia was near speechless. First Pyare, and now Serpina, expounding from depths their surfaces couldn’t possibly mask. And for once she was intrigued. There was something reassuring about the words spoken by the two however unlikely their own, and she was gaining an insight into a self that she didn’t know existed. She had to know more.
“You are loyal to Serre-Pain, I understand. Is he a relative of yours? A guardian?”
Serpina raised her chin proudly. “Obviously the Doctor is not a relative. He is African. But he is my guardian. I was very young when he found me. I was lost. I had been with a group of refugees. They were sick and dying. They did not do so quietly and their agony was felt across all frequencies. I can’t recall my mother, only a unique tone I associate with her. When I hear that tone again, we will be reunited. The refugees I was with were all grouped together in a single house in what were called special lots. We had to flee because the house was set on fire and burned to the ground. Doctor Serre-Pain found me in a barrel in the rubble on the streets of Dusseldorf where I had gone to get out of the cold. He was passing by with Madame Ophelia and his Ophidiarium wagons. Vladimir was with them, too. Vlady is a transomatic. He sensed my presence and signed the Doctor to look for me. Vlady knew right away that I was a vessel.”
Lydia had been holding her breath. Vlady again. She softened her curious gaze at Serpina. “I too was a young girl when Vlady protected me and my mother from the clowns and the carnies. Although his name was not Vladimir then, and he still had a tongue to speak.”
Serpina’s face grew red, eyes narrowed. “Vlady is mine! You can’t come back and take him away. Look at what you’ve done. Now we’re forced to hide and run without them. And Vlady is not here to protect us!”
Pyare glance over his shoulder at the commotion. “Hey, quiet down, you two. Get ready to leave. I think I see a prospect.”