The note from Andreus unfolds in Rolf’s hand along well-worn lines of creasing, elegant as a fan. Margo and Moe see only the object; soft cream paper, made tan at the edges by frequent handling; faint, exquisite hieroglyphs, fading to vague memories of words. Nothing but surface, the final impression of collected atoms as they are observed, flat and essentially lifeless.
To his misfortune, more now than ever before, Rolf sees everything the paper truly is, and beyond. Mere paper becomes a kaleidoscope of parts cohering to a whole by a process of interdependent cohabitation, a collection of energies, scents, pathways and impressions. Endless arrays of differing information, chaotic and frail.
Whirling residues of emotion cavort about each separate letter on the page; breach the surface like sporting dolphins. Complex constellations of glittering energy motes, all colours and shapes, their patterns denoting worry, excitement, anxiety. These intricate weavings made more complicated again by the mark of different hands, different sources.
Beyond that, equally bewildering, the scent of places. Topmost is the most recent, somewhere old, perhaps the client’s house. There’s a deep sense of history well preserved. Linseed oil polish, the faded echo of lavender and lemon. The resonance of tall rooms with casement windows filled with the sooty breath of wind from a maze of chimneys.
Deeper still lie imprints of the places before the house; some leather taint, remembered from the interior of a folder or case, the musty odour of the depths of a drawer, the sharp fresh tang of being new cut and wrapped. Partially recycled, it also holds the memory of a dozen and more other artefacts, their assorted recordings a menagerie of voices, smells and places, a tidal wave of too much information.
With them, behind each and every one, is buried the remembrance of having lived, of roots deep in the earth and seeking. Of canopy–heavy with leaf or skeletal without–shivering under wind, drenched in sunlight, rain or snow. Add to this a coterie of differing energy signatures, hand after hand that held each piece, formed words, screwed paper to a ball and lobbed it at a bin or pulled paper from drawer and pack and envelope.
All those energies, the colours and shapes of their emotions. Cacophonous. Appalling. Unbearable invasion. To pass through to the subject whose hand forged these particular words, these polished cursive copperplate letters, is not merely a case of separating impressions, colours, shapes and memories, it is the ability to purposely drown in sensory overload, and survive.
As Rolf plunges in to the mass of conflicting messages, scrambled and incoherent, each fights to be heard over the din of the rest. Ever anxious to be noticed, to be observed and become real, each mote cajoles for attention, a caterwauling mass of incoherent noise. Gradually, with meticulous patience, he sifts it all out until one note, one line of motes, one pure signature, stands clear in his mind.
It bears the subtle yellow cast of the beginnings of heart disease, the stuttering, semaphore feel of older energy coming close to the final sputtering of its cohesion. Unlike some energy at this juncture, however, this is not giving in to the inevitable; it still vibrates with bold strength despite age and ill heath. Rugged energy then, this is, resilient, and angry, very, very angry.
Rolf registers surprise at the discovery. Not only was he unaware that Moe’s boss was nigh on a nonagenarian, but he did not expect to find this wealth of red emotion crackling from his trail. Not the anger of the premature cutting of the thread as was expected and feared, this colour, but darker, deeper, more bound in confusion.
Curious, Rolf begins to follow the line through the Veils, a strand like spider silk, its texture unfamiliar to him. Not diffuse, like the lines they’d left the first time they travelled. Not an accidental marker at all, but nor is it the bold streak of self-directed movement. What could it be? Gradually, as he traces the path of the strand, Rolf begins to comprehend the significance. Andreus Witter, Moe’s boss, was thrown, with remarkable and brutal accuracy, through the Veils, against both his will and the natural order of things.
Filled with rising fury of his own, Rolf’s energy pulses concern as he follows Andreus Witter’s unwilling tracks through the Veils and reaches his final destination. The shock of it is like electricity crawling along the bones, sharp, crackling pain, a drop of the internal viscera, the blanking of the mind, that momentary hiccup where thought is deadened by disbelief at what has just occurred.
Rolf snaps back, the sensation, as always, rather like harmless fire sluicing across the surface of mind and eye. Moe and Margo stand leaning on the counter, awaiting his verdict. Margo has her head on Moe’s shoulder; Moe’s arm lies tucked about her waist. Despite the difference in features they look like siblings. His ribs squeeze against heart and lung, bruising pressure. Where they have to go to rescue Andreus, they may be lost to one another. To Rolf, it will be like losing light, air, warmth. Fundamental deprivation.
He doesn’t want to speak, but Moe’s delicious chocolate drop eyes fill with hope and Rolf is helpless against them. ‘He’s alive,’ he says, ‘but that’s the full extent of our good news. Witter was kidnapped from this Veil, shoved, or more like thrown, into another. Along with his client, and several chunks of our reality, our Veil. Timelines have been scrabbled together, woven as it were. Histories sewn to other histories, some real, others inventions culled from disparate parts of existing parallels, like a patchwork. And it’s a perfect construction too, every last stray signature in its place, like an interlocking puzzle. Any interference with this new pattern could cause untold devastation through the veils. I wouldn’t like to take the chance, we simply don’t know enough about how it all works.’
‘Well that’s all very expressive, but what does it mean, darling?’ Margo asks sweetly, juicy sarcasm dripping like cherry juice from her lips.
‘It means,’ Rolf tells her, equally as sweetly, ‘that wherever he’s gone, he’s now an integral part of it, like a cog in a finely tuned machine and, to extricate him, we’d have to work within the confines of that constructed world, whatever they might be, it’s hard to know by observing. Whatever those limitations are, it’s pretty clearly some sort of trap, and your Witter is the bait, so I imagine we might find ourselves devoid of any advantage.’
Hearing Rolf, Moe’s barely able to calculate the full import of it beyond the presence of danger, possible life-threatening danger. He wants to go after Andreus, must go, because Andreus is like family, just like Rolf and Margo, but they’ve only been back from their last excursion a short while, and the damage has been extraordinary, excessive. Great gouges have been torn into their psyche, and new, unknowable, uneasy dimensions have been added to their abilities. He’s unwilling to risk them again, especially under these circumstances.
‘I’ll go alone,’ he says. ‘If it’s a trap, then setting it with Andre means I’m the target. You don’t need to risk yourselves. I won’t let you.’
Rolf turns to look at him, and he’s lost in seas of brightest blue, in the gravitational pull of wide, black pupils. ‘Even if we let you get away with denying us the right to help you,’ Rolf says to him, ‘it wouldn’t work out that way.’
‘Because,’ Rolf tells him, with a tiny, ironic smile, ‘we’re all already there.’
The man stands in the apex of light filtering between the tall, proud arches of the Greater Londinium District Hangar, watches the distant puff and billow of the inbound Volitare as it cuts a proud course through sky and cloud.
About him, dressed in finery and rags and all manner of in between, stand passengers and enthusiasts and beggars alike, all awaiting the arrival of the giant airlocomotive, her conjoined might of seven elaborate carriages, all filled to the brim with travellers, goods and cattle from distant Oxford and beyond.
In his hand, there is weight, unfamiliar and yet too familiar all at once. He glances down, frowning. Hanging there, as though it grew from the coarse matter of his palm, sits a battered, functional Apothecary’s bag in brown leather.
Is this his? Uncertainty flares a wild path, like the uncontrolled fires of Volitare sparked to explosion by stray coal tossed from the furnace by gross neglect or misfortune. Yet, the longer he looks at it, the more the bag feels familiar, tugs at distant memory, a powerful yawing, like the pull of tide against foot when treading the shoreline.
Deep within, the swells pull and pull. He feels them sure as the carriages of the airborne Volitare strike their weight through the air above, great engines churning steam to pull upward against the call of gravity and push against the weight of prevailing wind caught and refined by their magnificent sails.
As the might and majesty of the Volitare known as Bethsheba draws to her destination, so too does the yawing pull of memory in his mind drift toward a conclusion. Closer and closer, as brass and wood and gas-filled balloon power down to rails and platform, to waiting multitudes, now cheering and waving madly, so does mind strive toward memory.
Accompanied by the chugging and clank of the vast carriages touching their wheels onto heavy steel tracks, the swoop of sails drawn tight to bloated sides, the heavy clang of ground brakes rising to hug and slow the steel wheels, his mind finally moors to remembrance and, with it, such a deep and violent wave of fury rises he barely contains himself from setting to crowds about with fist and boot.
The man, who was once Vespesian, stands raging silently in the apex of light filtering between the tall, proud arches of the Great District Hangar, watching the graceful might of Bethsheba as she cuts a proud course to the platform upon which he stands. A man lost in time. Stolen from himself, his life, by mere fireflies.
A man for whom mere vengeance will not suffice.
© Ren Warom 2012