Sunday Snippet – Degrees of Freedom

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

—- Bill Chance, Degrees of Freedom

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

I am working on writing fiction on a regular basis again. Every Sunday I’ll try to publish something here on my blog that I wrote, for as long as I can. Here is something for this week. It is a pure first draft – written on my Kindle Fire tablet with an attached mini keyboard. Feel free to get back to me with any comments.

Sunday Snippet

Degrees of Freedom

Lucious pulled his bicycle out from the garage and swung a leg over the bright purple banana seat after admiring how the metallic flakes sparkled in the afternoon sun. He lifted his hand high to grab the almost-vertical handlebars and with a little push rolled down the driveway into the street. The tiny front wheel, upswept bars, and aggressive frame geometry looked really cool to pre-teen eyes but was not very practical nor stable and he wiggled on the verge of losing control until he picked up speed and began to pedal along the road.

It was new comic book day at Smith’s Drugstore and Lucious’ eyes watered both from the wind and the visions of the colorful characters and amazing stories that were soon to be his. Last month had been particularly thick with cliff-hangers and he was desperate to find out how his heroes would escape their dooms.

Doctor Strange was trapped in a twisted dimension, The Fantastic Four were trapped in preternatural ice, and Spiderman was trapped by a new cute redhead at school. His package was already wrapped and waiting for him at the counter at Smith’s. Old man Smith did this to minimize the amount of browsing that Lucious would do – he could monopolize the magazine display for hours. A wad of crumpled, filthy bills along with a carefully counted ringing pile of change dropped onto the counter and Lucious was on the way home with the plastic bag full of adventure hanging from one purple grip.

That night, after feverishly turning the pages and learning of the miraculous escape of all his heroes and then how they inevitably jumped from the frying pan into the fire – leaving even worse horrific dooms for next month – Lucious flipped the pulpy pages to the section at the very back. He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that this crude part of the publisher’s art was his favorite. He began to pore over the ads.

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

Lucious was very familiar with these ads, had been seeing the same ones every issue for as long as he could remember – which was almost two years.

But there, on the very last page of Doctor Strange, was one he had never seem before. It even seemed fresh – sharp somehow – rather than the blurred text and crude drawings of the other, familiar advertisements.

“LEARN ALL ABOUT YOURSELF,” it read. The text explained that there were five dimensions of human personality and that it was of life and death importance to learn what point you occupied along these axes.

Lucious was twelve and suffered greatly from confusion about what was going on inside his own head. Thoughts swirled around deep mysterious eddies while confused desires and bizarre ideas crept in from the depths of his mind and set up camp in his head, refusing to leave. It was all very disturbing and frightened Lucious to the point that he worried about his future all the time.

And here, in front of his eyes, for the low cost of ninety-nine cents (not even a dollar) someone promised to explain this all to him. The mysteries of his own noggin would be cleared up and the future would open before him like a brightly-lit highway. He knew how disappointing the reality behind the wild promises could be – but this was irresistible.

Lucious carefully cut the little coupon out of the back of the book and filled out his name and address. He dug an envelope out of his middle desk drawer and taped three quarters, two nickels, a dime, and four pennies to a card (to disguise the fact the envelope contained cash and discourage the thieves at the post office). He relished the taste of the paste as he licked the stamps (adding an extra one, because of the weight of the coins).

He dashed out the side door and ran down to the next block to slide the letter into the big public mailbox (he didn’t want to use the clothespin on their own – didn’t want to answer his parents’ pesky probing questions) and watched it disappear forever into the black space beyond the slot. There was an ominous clang as he released the guard and it swung back over the opening. It was done – irretrievable –  there was no going back.

A twelve year old has no patience. Waiting was not one of his abilities. Every minute of every day was excruciating. Finally, after a hundred years (or maybe it was only ten days) a thick packet in a brown envelope arrived for him. He brushed off his parents’ questions and feverishly opened the package on his desk.

Inside was a cheap, mimeographed pamphlet of instructions, a set of computer cards with numbers and ovals, and a prepaid, preaddressed envelope. He was to read the instructions and answer a long set of questions, filling in the proper ovals on the cards that corresponded with the numbered questions and his answers. He was familiar with this drill – they did it every year at school to measure the children’s progress.

Lucious started to work. The questions were difficult – some were confusing, some were subtle, some were embarrassing to even think about, even more so to answer. But he knew that they were designed by professionals and were carefully and scientifically designed to plumb the very depths of his own personality – bring facts to light that even he had no idea about.

Hours later, feverish, sweating, and exhausted, he finished, filling in the last little oval. He packed the whole thing up in the provided envelope (the instructions said it was important to return the instructions themselves – not to let anyone read the questions other than him). It was late and pitch dark but he slipped out while his parents were watching TV and stumbled the two blocks to the same box, and slipped the envelope into the same slot of doom.

This time there was no impatience. He was a little nervous, but satisfied. He had done all he could do, now it was up to the experts on the other end to carefully examine his answers and to give him the self-knowledge that would change his life forever.

His only worry was that after all this work the whole thing was a ripoff. Maybe they were only gauging in some mysterious way the products that he was likely to want and to buy. Would all he get is some sort of a custom catalog full of items that he could not resist?

The days and weeks went by and Lucious mostly stopped thinking of the questions and the cards. He was only slightly haunted by the thought that he had probably wasted ninety-nine cents.

One day he was out riding his bicycle, going nowhere in particular. Suddenly, silently, three huge black cars were around him. One passed and pulled over in front, one behind, and one beside. He was boxed in and had to stop as the three slowed to a halt.

His heart raced and jumped into his throat as the door beside him opened and a huge man, with short dark hair, black business suit, and sunglasses stepped out.

“Lucious Lindale,” he said. It was not a question. “Please get into the car.”

Another man dressed in exactly the same way came out of the car in front, took his bicycle, and placed it in the trunk of the lead car. The trunk opened silently by itself and then closed with the same clunk as the cover on the steel mail box.

Lucious settled in the vast back seat beside the man in the suit. Another man that looked like the other two drove.

“Mr. Lindale, you filled out the multivariable personality assessment and sent it back.”

It took Lucious a minute to realize he was talking about the cards and the questions from the comic book. He nodded, although, again, it didn’t sound like a question.

“Out of the millions of responses, your answers indicate that you are exactly the person we are looking for. You will come with us and be trained This is truly the first day of the rest of your life.”

“But… but I’m only twelve years old.”

“Of course. You will receive very special and specialized training. You will be given unique abilities that a very select few are capable of. You will learn to look at the world in a way very different than everyone else. You will learn to see beyond the possible. For all this to be possible… well, thirteen is too old.”

Lucious looked out the window of the car. They were speeding along the old highway that ran out of town along the river. It had been a rainy spring and the river was up, angry and brown. The three black cars slowed and stopped along the shoulder next to an old railroad bridge. Lucious knew the bridge well, kids often crossed the river on it. It was a thrill not knowing if a train would come along before they could get across.

“Wait,” Lucious said, “I don’t now if I want to do this. I have to think. This is a big deal.”

“Sir,” the man said, very matter-of-fact, “This has already been settled. You have no input into the direction at this point. Did you read the fine print in the packet?”

Lucious had not. Still, it was a thrill to be called “sir.” He was certain no one had ever called him that before.

The two watched as the trunk of the car in front of them popped open. The man came out of that car, walked around and pushed the bicycle under the rear wheel. The car backed over the bike, leaving it a twisted mess of purple tubing. The man picked up the remains of the bicycle and threw it down the bank as if it weighed nothing. It landed half in the water below the railroad tracks on the bridge.

Lucious understood that everyone would assume he had been hit by a train and thrown into the river, never to be found. He turned his head to take one last look at the sun sparkling off the purple metallic plastic seat as the three cars sped away down the old highway to where it joined the Interstate.

Red Molly in a Leather Jacket

Says James, to Red Molly, “Here’s a ring for your right hand.
But I’ll tell you in earnest I’m a dangerous man;
For I’ve fought with the law since I was seventeen.
I’ve robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
And now I’m twenty-one years, I might make twenty-two.
And I don’t mind dyin’ but for the love of you.

—- Richard Thompson, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited last year, one that had an old fashioned photo booth back in the back, next to the filthy bathrooms. On the wall by the booth was a torn up cork board. A lot of people thumbtacked their strips of four photos into the cork, leaving them for posterity. I picked up a handful that looked interesting and stole them.

I’ve scanned the strips and I think I’ll take them, one at time, four photos at a time, and write a few words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about them.

I wrote a story about the first strip here – here’s the second, and now, on a riff about a song by Richard Thompson I heard lying in bed, is the third.

 

They all had one incredible thing in common, they were all, all four, born on the same day. The twins, Molly and Tandy Vermilion, Michelle McQuade, and, of course, James, James Aidee. All three girls loved James, loved him as long as they could remember. When they were little kids it didn’t matter that there were three of them, it was just something that they shared.

But then, as they reached their twenties, it began to change. Each one wanted James to himself. They set aside their differences on their twenty-first birthday and had a four-person party down in the bars by the waterfront. They crowded into a photo booth to remember the day. They smiled at the lens, not realizing how few happy days were in front of them.

It was time to start their lives. To the shock of the other three, Michelle joined the police force. She was always a big girl, and a bit shy, but she found a hard discipline inside herself that worked well with her on the front lines of the toughest parts of the city.

All three, women now, thought of James all the time, but he loved Molly. He loved Molly with a burning fire.

But James wasn’t worthy of all their attention, he was lazy and shifty and would do anything to avoid having to work for his money.

Somehow, when Michelle became a cop, that cut the ropes that were keeping all of them in check and things quickly began to spin out of control. James worked a deal with Molly’s sister, Tandy, borrowing all her savings (and she, unlike her sister Molly and James was a hardworking, honest woman) with some harebrained scheme to buy some brown heroin from the next town down the interstate and turn it into a big profit. Tandy never would have done the deal if she wasn’t blinded by her passion for James… there were some vague promises made – never intended to be kept.

He lost his nerve and blew Tandy’s money on a classic motorcycle, a 1952 Vincent, and a custom leather jacket for Molly, who dyed her hair bright red for the occasion. Tandy was furious, though she never showed it outwardly. Molly and James were the talk of the town… A red haired woman in a leather jacket on the back of a vintage motorcycle… quite the scene.

But the Gomez brothers were upset the deal never went down. They had made some upfront deal that left them holding the bag and they weren’t who you wanted to piss off. Officer Michelle McQuade heard rumors through her network of informers and tried to warn her old friend James, but he wasn’t hearing any of it.

Finally, one evening Tandy had enough and sent word to the Gomez brothers of a place that James would head out at night. She said she was sick and made sure her sister Molly stayed with her while James rode away, saying she didn’t always need to go, it would be all right, “Just this time.”

They blasted James with a shotgun and Molly barely got to him at the hospital before he died. His last act was to give her the keys to the undamaged motorcycle.

Now the two sisters, Molly and Tandy ride the bike together with Molly in front still wearing her leather jacket. They are the talk of the town. Sometimes they go too fast but Officer McQuade makes sure the tickets get squashed.

 

Live Through the Night

“Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you’ll live through the night.”
― Dorothy Parker

Somewhere in the Caribbean

 

The light leaking between the curtains was gray twilight. He didn’t know where he was and the only clock read six seventeen with no AM/PM indicator. He didn’t know if it was six in the morning or in the evening.

All he could do was to stay motionless, staring at the gap between the curtains, waiting to see if it grew lighter or darker.

The Illusion of Risk

What are you buying when you get on a roller coaster? Not risk… but the illusion of risk. Being hurled to the edge of danger but knowing that you’ll never have to cross it. … Think of Alaska as one big theme park.”
—- Limbo (movie), John Sayles

This year’s New Orleans Writing Marathon was based at the wonderful, historic Beauregard Keyes house in the French Quarter. What a beautiful place – I recommend a visit and a tour.

I particularly enjoyed the artwork hanging on the walls. On our trip across the river to Algiers, we discussed a dark painting that I remembered. You couldn’t see much – only a snow capped mountain line and maybe a bit of an orange glow. When we returned for the evening, I took a photo of the painting with my phone and was surprised to see that there was more visible in the picture than there was in real life. There was a row of mountains and a small boat in the foreground that you could not see with the naked eye. I was particularly taken by that subtle orange glow behind some trees on the right hand side.

Enhanced photo of a painting in the hallway of the Beauregard-Keyes house, New Orleans

The staff from the Beuregard-Keyes House said that the painter and even the date of this particular canvas was unknown. I talked to the others that had been at Algiers with me and realized I had the wrong artwork – they had been discussing a nearby painting of Venice at night by George Loring Brown.

That didn’t matter to me, I still was fascinated by the dark line of snowcapped mountains and still water. The next day at a nearby breakfast place I decided to write a flash fiction based on the painting (changing the mountains into volcanic peaks for dramatic effect). Inspired by one of my favorite films, Limbo (see it at your risk, I loved the film but the others in the theater stood up and cursed the screen at the end – Christopher Null said, “I can forgive many things. But using some hackneyed, whacked-out, screwed-up non-ending on a movie is unforgivable. I walked a half-mile in the rain and sat through two hours of typical, plodding Sayles melodrama to get cheated by a complete and total copout finale.” – He is completely wrong, the movie ended the only way it could….), left the ending… somewhat unresolved.

Typed up from my handwritten notebook:

July 11, 10:30 Croisant D’Or, New Orleans

The darkness was so all-encompassing it felt as thick and liquid as the saltwater they dipped their paddles in. The four canoes and single small skiff moved in a rough line. Sam could almost see the skiff ahead – more of an impression than actual vision – rowed by the four on board – its sails useless in the dead calm night.

Beyond, the unseen moon hidden by an invisible line of cliffs to the right illuminated the snow capped upper slopes of the volcano. Its torn cone glowing in the sky – visible, but selfish with its cold light.

The paddles and oars clumped up and down the line, with an occasional weak splash. The men were all too exhausted with effort, fear, and lack of sleep to work efficiently and the sound of wood striking gunwale or skipping off the water at the wrong angle was a surprise to these skilled seagoing men – but they were so numb – the embarrassment passed.

They worked in silence. Sam wondered if the other men’s minds were silently exploding within – as his felt. The humidity thickened the darkness. The only breeze was provided by their paddling – the heat was broken every now and then by invisible lenses of cool air that fell down the slopes from the snowfields miles above. They passed through a bank of sour sulfur mist from the fumaroles along the shore. The paddling increased to move through that foulness as quickly as possible.

Sam saw something new – coming to life out of the ink. At first it was barely visible – a dark dull rust-colored patch ahead, quickly heating into a dark but distinct orange glow.

It was a bit to the right of the skiff, along the shoreline. Sam realized this was their destination, their camp. There was a line of dunes and behind them a swampy area before the land rose quickly up the mountain. They had pitched camp atop a series of grassy hummocks above the brown stagnant drainage, but still protected by the dunes from being seen from the sea.

At first the glow heartened Sam and the others as their rowing increased a little more in pace. They were almost back. Sam thought of a bit of a rest – of a stout drink around the campfire before they had to start the hard work of unloading the rifles and ammo boxes from the canoes and the skiff. Sam even thought beyond that, of crawling into his tent for sleep. That seemed the end, he couldn’t get his mind past the imaginary sensation of letting himself falling limp and snapping his eyes shut.

But as they approached at a frustrating pace, weighted down by all that steel until the tiny waves lapped at the gunwales, the orange glow began to grow and spread.

Soon, it was all-encompassing. They could even see yellow licks of flame flicking over the tops of the dunes. Long tongues of red light reached up the sides of the mountain above, moving and interspersed with long ominous purple moving shadows.

Shouts, curses, and desperate cries peppered up and down the line of little boats. Sam kept silent though, and continued to paddle with desperate hopeless effort. They all did, still moving straight into the growing conflagration.

They had nowhere else to go.

Sam thought, “I am mortal. We are all going to die… but when? Is it going to be tonight?”

The First Time

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Two, Tuesday, July 11, 2017

One snippet of what I wrote that day.

The first time Jambalaya Joe cooked for us he made – of course – jambalaya. A great black cast iron kettle, suspended over a ring of roaring blue gas jets fed by a rusty steel bottle mounted on his trailer, bubbled furiously and steamed like a witch’s cauldron into the humid Louisiana air.

Rice, mysterious lumps of meat, and bags of vegetables went in – to roil and cook.

Then Jambalaya Joe looked around as if to make sure nobody was watching (though we all were – ravenous after a long, hard working day) extracted a large tin box from a stained canvas bag, lifted it over the boiling pot, and opened the lid with the creak of old hinges.

A cloud of red spice tumbled out to disappear into the boil below. It changed the color of the stew from a flat brown to a fiery red.

“That’s his famous secret spice mix,” said some random stranger next to me, complete with a wink and a subtle elbow to the ribs.

Jambalaya Joe cooked the evening meal for us every night, hired by The Company to feed the work crew until the job was finished.

He made something different each night. Jambalaya became gumbo, then red beans and rice, Irish stew, chili, then spaghetti and meatballs… on and on – visiting every cuisine of the world. I never imagined a cast-iron kettle could be so versatile.

But every meal he dumped the exact same tin box filled with the same secret spice mix into the pot.

Sound of Schoolkids

The other weekend we had another Writing Marathon. We met in Klyde Warren Park and walked across to the Dallas Museum of Art. The idea was to use the paintings as inspiration.

I’ve done that in the past… writing some fiction while sitting and looking at works of art. So I did it again – started a piece of fiction using objects and themes from a handful of painting that spoke to me that day. After pages of furious scribbling I came to a stopping place, the well had run dry.

So I switched to a bit of non-fiction, writing about what I saw, felt, and heard right then… as a little bit of writerly palette cleaning, a way to keep the pen moving, and to help remember the day.

This is what I’ve typed up out of my Moleskine:

There is a sound of a group of schoolkids moving through the gallery. The chatter, the echoing around the corners, the occasional squeak of a plastic sole scraped across polished wood.

An art museum is a place designed for the eyes, but it is a unique sound collection. Close your eyes and listen for the ping of the elevator door, a distant infant cry echoing through the labyrinth, a close jingle of keys.

The guards have rubber soled leather working shoes – silent as death and strong enough to stand in all day. I imagine their feet are sore and tired when they go home at the end of their shift.
Close your eyes and you can still feel the power of the art. There is so much time trapped in the layers of oil and pigment, drowned in the waves of brushmarks.

Open your eyes and look at the color. That blue robe is over four hundred years old – still as bright as the day it was layered down.

Nicolas Mignard  French 1606-1668 - The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife - 1654

Nicolas Mignard, French 1606-1668 – The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife – 1654 (detail)

Stand in front and extend your hand (not too close!) and feel yourself standing in the spot and position of the artist – though he had no electric light, no air conditioning. Next to the painting, on a little card, is a plaque with a number… Five Hundred (let’s say).

Jacques-Louis David, French, 1748-1825, Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe, 1772

Jacques-Louis David, French, 1748-1825, Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe, 1772

Pull out your phone, go to the indicated website (the museum has free WiFi, of course) and type in the number. (The museum posts this web address, dma.mobi – that contains so much information in a mobile interface… this is truly the best of all possible worlds). There, in your palm, appears a portrait of the artist – the tiny tinny speakers (forgot your earbuds again, didn’t you) speaks to you – a famous art historian lectures on those ancient times.

The glowing screen in your palm now changes every few seconds with a new image – a series of paintings by the same artist. This is too much. You can’t help but wonder what those ancient geniuses with their candles and oil paints would think of the tiny glowing screens. Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Una Battaglia – Friday Snippet

Una Battaglia (A Battle) – Arnaldo Pomodoro

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden – New Orleans Museum of Art

.

city

R’leigh and Sansom started their climb in the pitch black pre-dawn darkness. The lights mounted on their helmets cast yellow ovals that would dim after every few minutes. Then they had to pull them off and crank the little handles in the dark for a new charge. R’leigh would shiver as she felt the cool air off the vastness beyond the cliff blowing her hair and the tension in the unseen ropes holding her to the metal pins Sansom hammered into cracks in the rock while she worked at the generator built into her helmet light.

It seemed like forever, but they had moved about a third of the way on their way to the top when the sky began to glow salmon through the thick clouds. The rising sun itself was hidden but the faint glow of dawn was replaced by the slate-gray light of every day under the globe-girdling smoke cloud that had choked the earth from times before R’leigh was born. At least they could climb without the headlights and R’leigh rested against the rough granite while Sansom pulled their heavy equipment up from the base of the cliff far below. He then reeled in all the extra rope – now that they could be seen, they could not be reached.

The day settled in to a long, exhausting routine of Sansom pounding in pins above, then the two of them moving up in turns, each belaying the other in case one fell, then Sansom pulling up the equipment over the height they had gained.

While R’leigh braced herself safe and still and watched Sansom work she thought of a time three years ago, not long after they had started planning and training for this day. The two of them were on a school outing to a rare grove of trees preserved in a museum on the 598 level. The museum had done its best to duplicate at least a piece of a real forest, distributing the trees in a thick, random pattern over a rolling hill – artificial light streamed down from a ceiling painted an unreal blue.

The teachers had let the students wander around in the trees and told them to try and imagine a time when forests like this covered a large part of the earth – they went on for thousands of miles. R’leigh found that hard to believe and didn’t really understand what the big deal was – but Sansom pulled her into the center of the cluster of trees and then down a little gully away from the crest of the hill. There the grove was at its thickest.

He spent some time looking carefully up and around, until he had satisfied himself that they were hidden from the handful of cameras set up to keep an eye on the precious trees. He had already begun his secret training and was quickly becoming an expert on avoiding the surveillance. Looking straight at R’leigh, he slipped a hand into his jacket and pulled out a small, silver object which unfolded in the center.

“A pocketknife,” he said quietly. “The cell, we all made these out of scraps of cooling duct.”

He turned and moved the knife quickly and surely across the surface of the tree, slicing the bark in confident, sharp lines. R’leigh saw liquid welling up in the cut lines. She didn’t know that trees would bleed. Instead of red blood, though, the sap oozed out in a series of little clear globs, strings of sparkling jewels like a living necklace along the lines that Sansom was carving. The air quickly filled with a sharp smell – the life of the tree leaking into the air. She was so intrigued by the crystal-like sap she didn’t even notice what he was cutting out.

Before she realized what he was doing, he stopped, then stood back and, with a self-satisfied smirk, gestured as his work. He had carved the simple outline of a heart with the initials, SS + RL inscribed within.

“Look quick, hard and close, I want you to remember this. But we need to go before they find us and see what I’ve done.”

R’leigh felt her pulse quicken and she let out a gasp. The risk he was taking; they would scrub the both of them if they were caught damaging anything as precious at that tree. She allowed herself five seconds to memorize the heart, the letters, and the gleaming jewels of sap until it was burned in her mind forever. In the three years since, she had been tempted to return to the museum and the grove of trees and see if the design was still there but neither of them dared – they might be watching to see who comes back.

Her reverie ended when Sansom jerked on the rope and it was time to continue moving upwards. She allowed herself a second to look out over the landscape that was opening up beneath and around them. They were high enough now, almost to the top of the spire, that they could see a vast panorama of dead twisted gray rock reaching up from endless beds of sterile gravel. This was the world that they lived in.

Within another hour they reached the flat top of the rock spire. It had taken half a day of climbing. Their years of training in every spare hour had paid off – her arms were tired but she had enough energy to feel excitement at their accomplishment. Sansom disappeared over the edge above her, and then his head reappeared as he reached down to help her up and over. Then the two of them worked together to pull and wrestle the equipment bags over the edge and spread them out away from the sheer cliff edge that they had just climbed.

Only when the equipment was safe did they walk the few steps to the opposite side of the rock cap and look out at the city. It had been hidden from them by the bulk of the spire while they climbed the opposite side, as the rock had hidden them from the watchers on the high walls. R’leigh had, of course, never seen the city from this vantage point and she gasped at its size and beauty.

The city was made up of two parts. Down below, was the huge and squat old city – burned, torn, and rendered from the war. Enormous hunks had been blasted away from the sloped sides of the square bunker shaped edifice. Great cracks wandered over what was left behind, though they could see the ugly patches that had been applied to keep the remains from crumbling apart.

Above this wreck rose the high shining rectangular tower of the new city. Built after the war on the remains of the old, this gleaming monolith reached upwards beyond the height of even the tallest rock spire which they had climbed, still being built as floors were added to the unseen top.

R’leigh and Sansom set to work quickly, unloading the equipment bags and assembling the heavy tripod first. They had practiced this many times and R’leigh found herself stealing looks at the immense and distant city as they worked; her arms and hands moving with familiarity over the tubing and fasteners almost without her conscious knowledge.

She realized she loved the city. It had been her home her entire life and she could count on one hand how many times she had been outside that gleaming tower before today. Inside, a person could not understand or comprehend its size and simple beauty. It took her breath away to see it like this – she found herself staring at it every second, even taking her eyes off Sansom as he worked alongside her, something she rarely ever did.

Soon, the tripod was complete and using the ropes they had climbed with and a pair of long, strong poles assembled from sections in the equipment bags the two of them lifted and levered the heavy tube onto the tripod and fastened it firmly in place.

R’leigh stepped back while Sansom tightened up all the bolts and began final adjustments of the apparatus. There, in front of her were both Sansom, sweating with effort and concentration while he worked, and in the distance beyond, the lustrous metallic surface of the city. R’leaih’s heart began to race, both at the excitement of what they were about to do and with the sheer beauty of the scene.

She loved what she was looking at, but she thirsted for destruction, and after years of careful planning and preparation, she was about to drink. Sansom had finished and he came back to where she was standing, holding a small metal box trailing a fine wire that spooled out of the apparatus.

He placed his arm around R’leigh’s shoulders and looked like he was trying to think of what to say.

“There’s nothing to say,” said R’leigh, “we’re ready now, it’s time for the completion of all our work.”

“My love, here, push the button,” Sansom said as he handed her the box. It had only a small red circle on one face.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Absolutely.”

And with that she pressed the red circle. Immediately the rocket ignited and with a flash and a roar loud enough to make them jump it moved out, surprisingly slowly at first, but gathering speed at a frightening pace. The small rocket soon disappeared in the distance but the mane of black smoke showed its progress as it arced up into the gray sky and unerringly flew into the city.

Within a few minutes it had jumped the long gap between their rock spire and the gleaming city and struck right where it was intended, about a third of the way up along the huge structure. Its initial strike was not much more than a pinprick but the missile was designed to penetrate the skin of the structure and explode within.

The small but efficiently powerful fusion device in the rockets nose cone exploded inside the city and the entire edifice began to shake. Huge cracks appeared in its carefully polished surface, glowing with orange fire as the reaction began wreaking its destruction. The city was now tearing itself apart from the inside, mortally injured by the power of the tiny missile which had started a chain reaction which doomed the gigantic edifice. It took several minutes for the sound to reach them, but the massive explosions would shake the very stone that they were standing on.

R’leigh and Sansom stood together, their arms wrapped around each other as they swayed slightly back and forth, watching the beauty of what they had done.