Lords of Being
Chapter 9: The Last of the Nut-Walters
The next anomaly on the hit parade is a few blocks from the Norris household. The party strolls over. Hookie is having a wonderful time.
They find this address is another brownstone. There are no Nut-Walters in the yard this time, and Claude places the anomaly on the first floor. That is to say, the floor above ground level, since this is Britain. According to the records Glass found, the upstairs residence belongs to a family named “Edwards.” There was a Madeline Edwards listed in the Arts Council records.
Mabel considers the options from the sidewalk. She can’t send Hookie into the yard for a 2nd floor household. Sniffing delicately, she detects odors suggesting that there’s a child in the house. Perhaps Hookie can lure… her… out. “Hookie…” The dog looks up at her. “We need to get the attention of the child who lives on the second floor. Think you can handle it?” Hookie wags his tail. She bends down and unhooks the lead, and he races off, yapping. After running around the front yard for a while, going back and forth as if he were tracking a drunken squirrel, he runs around to the back, still yapping and throwing in a howl occasionally, for variety. Finally, Mabel’s keen ears hear, “Mummy, look! There’s a dog in the back yard!”
Ever helpful, Claude fashions a glowing, beckoning hand over Hookie.
“Mummy, come look at this!”
A second voice is heard, “What is it Carol?”
“It was like a big cartoon hand over the dog!”
Claude has the hand wave at the girl in the window. She gasps. Hookie looks up, and starts growling and barking at the hand. He clearly does not appreciate anyone attempting to elbow into his performance.
The hand winks out, and Claude says, “Mabel, make Hookie bark nice….”
Mabel whistles a supersonic note that no human could hear. Hookie races over to her. “Be charming and appealing.” Hookie looks skyward and yips. “That hand in the sky? That was someone trying to be helpful.” Mabel’s voice drips sarcasm on the word “trying.”
Hookie yips once more and goes back into the Edwards’ yard, where he starts digging up flowers.
Carol’s voice can be heard, “Mummy, the dog is back, and he’s digging in the yard!”
Mom shrieks. “Those are Mrs. Spenser’s good tulips!”
That’s our cue. Mabel calls out, “Hookie! Hookie! Where are you Hookie?” Hookie looks up from his digging and barks excitedly. These must be the best tulip bulbs he’s ever seen.
Claude, Zabeth and Mabel follow the sound of the barking to the back yard. Hellgrammite stays by the gate as if he intends to grab Hookie if he bolts. The child is on the back step, carrying a Nut-Walter. Behind her is her mother. The mother is carrying the anomaly. Zabeth pushes and it’s done.
Mabel apologies profusely, “I’m so very sorry. Hookie is usually so very well behaved,” as she reattaches the lead.
Carol asks, “Can I pet him?”
“Yes, but gently.”
The child scritches Hookie behind his ears. He barks playfully, and the jumps up and grabs the Nut-Walter and terrierizes it. Felt and pipe cleaners go flying in all directions.
“Oh mummy, we’d almost finished it!” While the child is complaining, it’s clear that this is more pro forma than a real upset.
“Don’t worry darling, we’ll make another one,” replies her mother distractedly.
To make up for his actions, Mabel has Hookie do tricks for them, including shaking hands with Carol and Mrs. Edwards before apologizing again and heading off.
One anomaly to go.
The last home is occupied by Charlene Baxter, who lives down the street a bit. On the bottom floor, this time. The team is running low on psi, but both Zabeth and Hellgrammite have 3 turns of luck each.
Arriving at the Baxter residence, they can see a row of Nut-Walters in various poses on the sill of one of the front windows. Now that they’re looking, they’re in the other windows too. Mabel can sense another child, so she asks Hookie if he’d like to run around and attract the child’s attention. Silly question. This is the most fun Hookie has had in ages. Let off the leash, he runs into the yard. Spying the Nut-Walters in the window, he starts barking and jumping at them. A small face appears at the window. It’s a little girl, laughing at Hookie’s antics. Claude identifies her as the source of the anomaly. Both Zabeth and Hellgrammite try, and then burn through a turn of luck each, before Hellgrammite manages to push the anomaly. Hookie entertains the little girl for a while longer, before returning to Mabel and the group. The little girl waves goodbye, and they wave back as they depart.
Their job is done.
Meanwhile, back at Loois’ place in Bermuda…
Rosamund asks Loois about that emissary he promised to send, “You did send an emissary?”
“Not yet. If you want, I’ll get to work on it straight away.”
Loois sits in a chair that appears to be in the center of the room’s clutter, pulls a laptop off of one of the piles, and starts pounding on it. It’s not clear what he’s doing. Glass wanders over, to find a display with what look like figures out of Renaissance grimoires and other occult works.
Turning to Neville, Rosamund asks, “Anything else we can answer?”
Neville considers. “So how long have you been here?”
“Yeah… Wait! Where else have you been?”
“Wherever I’ve been assigned. They don’t all look alike you know. The ones I’ve been on tend to have similar fauna. Sometimes I change things.” She grins, “A lot of times I change things. I wasn’t responsible for the snake. I don’t do snakes. That’s not my genre.”
Neville looks startled, “There really was a Garden of Eden?
“This whole place is a Garden of Eden! Have you seen the other planets?”
“The local ones. They’re mostly just lifeless rocks. Well, except the one you call Jupiter.”
“There’s people on Jupiter?” Neville asks.
“No,” says Loois. “Well, a couple of us, but no one native. No ‘aliens.’“
Glass pipes up, “You have to go further for that.”
“There’s this place where they all live in these crystalline cities. While their planet has been stable for ages, is entering a more tectonically active phase. It won’t be pretty.”
“ How far away are they?”
“Far enough that I experience a substantial time lag when I try to think about it. And it’s supposed to be instantaneous.”
Before Neville can puzzle that out, Loois looks up from his laptop, “They ought to answer that fairly soon.”
Neville tries again, “So what other people have you two dealt with?”
Loois replies, “At first there was just a lot of scut work with swirling gas. I’ve often had a lot fun assignments on worlds with just animals. They don’t get as twisty as people. Voms were nice, though. Maybe still are. They’re rather like giant squid, only amphibious. They’ve got very interesting chemical technology which they mostly do inside themselves. They’re generally easy-going, cheerful fellows, about a ton each. There. There’s some aliens for you.”
“How long ago was this?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been on earth for many hundreds of years. I haven’t kept track.” He is a lord of Chaos, afterall.
“So how common is intelligent life?”
Rosamund replies, “It depends on what you call intelligent.”
Loois says, “I don’t know, I never added it all up and took an average.”
Glass adds, “There are more than enough interesting places to go around. Full of people and spirits.”
Neville snorts, “Spirits? We’re not talking about ghosts, are we?”
“Oh yes, them too.”
Neville is clearly taken aback. “What happens after we die?”
Loois replies, “Everyone gets born the same way, right?” Neville nods. Loois continues, “There’s lots of ways to live after you’re born.” Neville nods again. “Well there’s lots more ways after you’re dead.”
Neville looks dubious, “So we get to make our own afterlife?”
Loois shrugs. “Well, you contribute to it. Just like you contribute to your life. But we’re more concerned with the material plane, not the immaterial plane.”
“So are there others that concern themselves with the immaterial?”
“You’ve always known that. But we’re not here to give you religious instruction.”
Neville looks relieved, “OK, we’ll stay away from religion.”
Rosamund pipes up, “That’s usually safer.”
Changing the subject, Neville asks, “What did Asiras look like before he became fragments?”
“An opalescent pile of goo. “
“Why do you look human?”
“It’s a convenient form for doing things on this planet. But we can look like all kinds of things. One of us is a large amethyst crystal.”
Glass mutters, “Generally, you try to not scare the horses, as the old saying goes.”
A new voice says, “But it’s so much fun to scare the horses.” A large langur monkey walks into the room, looks at Rosamund, and demands, “So where is it?” The Courtiers recognize it as Hanuman, the sender of the torn-up message and the nine turns of luck. Neville just gapes at the talking monkey.
“Right here.” She holds up her portion of the cardboard with the message from Hanuman.
“Not that. The fragment.”
“Not right here.”
“You left it in York?”
Rosamund shrugs and reiterates, “It’s not here.”
Hanuman seems mildly exasperated and says he’d best be off then, as soon as his “ride” is ready.
When she’s sure Hanuman is gone, she says to Loois, “I didn’t lie to him.”
Neville asks, “That was another one of you?”
“What’s your native form?”
Loois says, “This is mine.” Poof. He’s an amoeboid blob with bubbles inside it.
Neville cautiously pokes at the amoeboid. A pseudopod grows out of the blob and pokes back.
Glass interrupts the show-and-tell, “It would be inconvenient if a certain monkey returned here…”
Rosamund wonders, “How did he get here?
Loois reverts to his human form and says, “I don’t know. He must have somehow…” He stumbles to a halt as he thinks.
Glass suggests, “He created that note.”
Loois brightens, “Right! He might have been able to trace it.” He pauses, then adds, “Or he might have asked Mona.”
Rosamund hands the piece of cardboard to Loois, “You hold it,” then asks, “Where shall we go?”
Loois suggests, “Ames, Iowa?”
Rosamund turns to Neville, “Do you have room for some house guests?”
Neville’s unsure about this, but not sure where else to go. “Sure…”
“And do you have a garden?”
“There’s a park across the street.”
While they’re discussing this, Glass discreetly leaves a viewpoint in Loois’ window.
“Ames might not be a bad idea,” Rosamund decides. She asks Loois, “Do you have a spare phone?”
She fears the one she has may have been compromised.
Of course. Here. It’s got encrypted communications. Of course, it won’t keep everybody out, will it?” He looks at Glass.
Glass ignores the comment. He’s playing with his phone, attempting to check Neville out of the hotel.
“Silly people, they don’t have online checkout.” A few taps more on the phone, “Or rather, they don’t know they have online checkout. They do now.”
Rosamund laughs, “You’d make a good Chaos lord. Have you even thought of coming over?”
Glass ignores her and looks at Neville, “Nothing you need immediately?”
“No, except possibly my laptop.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll have a cleaning service in York pack your things and send them to me.” He pauses, then asks, “You left your phone in your room, didn’t you?”
“Of course. It’s in my briefcase.”
Glass shakes his head and disappears.
Loois asks, “Are the two you ready for Ames?”
Neville nervously asks, “Will this affect me the same way it did when you brought me here?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps it was the drug that Rosamund gave you.”
Neville turns to the second Courtier. “What did you give me in York?”
She replies, “Poppies, they’re in my field, you might say.”
Neville turns to Loois, “Just do it.”
Bang! They’re in Ames.
Glass is in Neville’s room at the Royal York hotel. He phones Hellgrammite to ask if the Chaos lord can pick up Neville’s laptop from the presenter’s prep room.
After packing up Neville’s stuff, he calls Loois, “Can you send me Ames in one jump?”
Bang. Glass is in an apartment with a man being sick. It’s a pretty bare except for lots of books on pine shelves. There’s a mattress on the floor. Rosamund doses him with an analgesic.
Glass puts down the laptop and then disappears again. He’s now in London, on the roof of Lloyds. He settles himself, becomes intangible, and transfers to Mona’s lamp chimney. A quick look, and he returns to Lloyds. He saw Mona talking to two people in what appears to be a private residence, in a room full of books. The first person was a middle-aged, dapper fellow in a grey suit. The other was a very tall, elegant, black woman in a white dress. She was wearing a large amount of diamond jewelry. Glass recognizes her as Carbon. She calls herself “Lady Diamond,” though as the third most abundant element in the universe, she’s really quite common...
Glass calls Loois and describes the dapper gentleman and the surroundings.
“Sounds like Ragnison.”
“Well that wouldn’t be bad, would it?” asks Glass.
“Please give me a call in 15 minutes or so.”
Glass hangs, puts his hand in his pocket with the phone, and steps into the library.
Diamond sees him enter, “Ah Mr. Glass. How good to see you.”
“Terribly sorry to intrude without notice. It’s very hard to knock before arriving.”
“A few of us seem to have a small problem. I was hoping to explore its extent.”
The dapper gentleman gestures, “Please go ahead. My name is David Ragnison.”
“Ah. My name is Sylvester Glass. Si to my friends. I was hoping that it was you.”
Mona asks, “What’s the matter now?”
Glass replies, “The Elemental Knights try to stay out of politics, but it seems to have come looking for us.” He looks at Mona, “In fact you seem to have delivered it.”
“Those messages?” She was clearly too polite to peek at them.
“Yes, they had a deeply Separatist import.”
“We got the text of Clisk’s message.” (Loois sent it out by email.)
“Hanuman’s wasn’t any better.” Glass recites the message from the pieces of cardboard.
Ragnison objects indignantly, “He was threatening Mabel! That’s so unfair! You don’t keep dogs in the quantities she does and not make your peace with chaos.”
Glass replies, “Hanuman may have been acting quickly because Mabel had a leg up.”
Ragnison smiles blandly. “We will not dwell on that image.”
“In any event, there’s a certain level of threat in all of this.”
“We were just discussing this when you showed up. However you did that...”
Glass ignores the implied question, “When I last saw him, Hanuman was heading to where Mabel is supposedly outnumbered. Presumably he won’t do anything untoward.”
“Hanuman is a rambunctious fellow. He runs a monkey troop in India.”
“He looked quite suited to that role, when I saw him. He mentioned something about his ride.”
Glass shrugs. “Is he likely to do anything to keep Mabel from catching up?”
“He might. He’s obviously of a Separatist disposition. He might consider that we’re all immortals, so it doesn’t matter if we get roughed up a bit.”
“I thought it might be wise to bring in cooler heads.”
“Well, we can see to it that Mable is not outnumbered.”
Mona mentions, “I have a bit of candle left.”
Glass responds, “Hanuman didn’t seem to be having any difficulties, but I kept my comments short.”
Ragnison asks, “Hanuman is still in York?”
“Where is Rosamund?”
“I hope you won’t take this wrong, but I’d prefer not to answer that.”
Ragnison nods. “She is safe?”
“She is free?”
“That’s important for Chaotics.”
Mona says, “This is the last candle I’ve got and I hate to go shopping in Iraq these days… If we all hold hands…”
Glass offers Diamond his arm. Diamond takes Ragnison’s hand, who takes Mona’s hand. Mona lights her candle, and recites:
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Aye, and back again.
If your feet are nimble and light,
You’ll get there by candlelight.”
Poof. They’re in York, in a discrete corner of the hotel.
Glass phones Hellgrammite, “Where exactly are you folk?”
“I’m in my room packing and wiping his computer of any viruses.”
“You haven’t seen any monkeys?”
“No.” (If you’re a Chaos lord, you just roll with questions like that.)
“Are you with Mabel?”
“She’s in her room.”
“I’m here with Mona, Ragnison and Lady Diamond. Come meet us in the lobby when you’re ready.”
After hanging up, Glass reports to the group that the local Courtiers are in their rooms. He then calls Mabel, “Hello? Si here.”
Mabel responds, “Hello! We were successful.”
Glass suddenly realizes that other than a few fading traces, he can’t feel anything anomaly “flavored.”
“Why, yes. You were. Have you had any monkey problems?”
“Nobody’s been monkeying with us.” (Ladies of Order are pretty resilient, too.)
“I have a few colleagues with me. “
“One moment.” Glass hears the sounds of luggage closing, “I’m all packed. Zabeth should be ready in a minute or two.”
“Come meet us in the lobby.”
Glass hangs up, and then calls Neon. “Si here. We’re in the lobby”
“Oh hello. I’m in the bar.” Glass looks towards the bar, and can see Claude waving.
“We’ll come get you.”
He hangs up, and the reports to Ragnison , Mona and Diamond, “Hellgrammite, Mabel and Zabeth will be down shortly. I’ll go fetch Neon.”
He walks off with Diamond. “We seem to have come into possession of a fragment of Lord Asiras.”
“That is the Chaos lord who was splattered.”
“Yes. Hanuman and Clisk are after it. The question is what is the best thing to do to keep the human who has it alive and to keep the factions from going to war.”
“Used correctly, this could become a tool for bringing about a reconciliation. Can we not take it from the human?” asks Diamond.
“The human seems to be rather connected to it, and the fragment seems to want to stay where it is. It refused to allow me to take it safety and instead hid inside the human.”
They enter the bar, and Neon greets them, “Lady Diamond. How nice to see you again!” He bows, flamboyantly.
Glass says, “The fragment is inside Neville.”
“We’ve confirmed what it is?”
“Yes, it’s a fragment of Lord Asiras. It gets better. Clisk sent a message to Mabel insisting that she snatch it for the Separatist lords of Order. Then Hanuman sent a message insisting that it be taken for Chaos. Hanuman showed up in Bermuda, and we sent him here. We’ve taken the fragment to a place of safety.”
“The fragment and the man from Iowa. Neville is alive?” Neon asks.
“Yes. We are supposed to be helping these people, and getting them killed generally isn’t considered helpful. There being a fair amount of Chaos in all this, Loois is trying to contact Lord Draffo.”
Diamond interjects, “One of the surviving Inner Gang. From what little I know, Draffo is unlikely to be partisan. It may be that it was swept along by its colleagues.” She considers for a bit, “My recommendation would be to keep the fragment on Earth. If we deliver it to the metaphysical, it’s more likely to be a bone of contention. Here, it’s on neutral territory.”
Glass asks, “Can we get a non-aggression pact? Or should we take it on the lam?”
“Until we get a non- aggression pact, being ‘on the lam’ might be safest.”
Neon grins, “Road trip!”
Diamond ignores him. “If he is to be kept moving, he must stay with you, or our new friends. We must now divide them into three factions, the Order Loyalists, the Chaos Loyalists and the Collaborationists. Our friends are clearly the Collaborationists.
“Are you confident that Mona and Ragnison are Collaborationists?” Glass asks.
“So far we have Mabel Anson, Hellgrammite, Zabeth Infininoir, Rosamund, Loois, Mona, and David Ragnison. In Collaborationist camp. Clisk has declared for the Order Loyalists, and Hanuman for the Chaos Loyalists.
“As a tactical situation, that strikes me as reasonably satisfactory,” says Diamond.
“Perhaps you and the two courtiers we brought with us can hold Hanuman at bay, while Neon and I spirit the other three away?” Glass suggests.
“Yes, that sounds like a workable plan. Shall we join the others now?”
“One more thing first. While keeping moving is very attractive, it might be good to have an emergency channel. Perchance, do any of your entangled possessions have the slightest bit of glass? Would you mind?”
“Not at all.” She rummages in the clear plastic purse she carries, pulls out a first-aid kit, and offers a thermometer.
He entangles an atom. When he hands it back, she asks, “Your phone?” He offers it. She entangles an atom in it.
And thus we hang our cliff.
Last Updated: Mar 28, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved