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Dublin is cold but not inhospitably so, and a man slips through thick crowds, hustling, his look downcast as a light rain starts to fall. It is almost so cold that snow will stick, but not today. To put a twist on an old idiom, his Irish vision is not smiling. Still, folks walking by him don't bump too much, allowing him to pass without difficulty to a location at which two roads cross, forming a sort of t. Not that anybody is squinting at orthography too much.

What sticks out is a public mailbox by this junction, that nobody owns or lays a claim to. It'll suit. Our protagonist walks up to it and pulls out a card from his coat. A postcard would do, truthfully, but privacy is a luxury, to lick his words and lock up all that was put down. And it's not as if his cashflow is hurting. Factoring in his cost for a bunch of stamps to mail this far away also isn't a hardship.

What's a bit of an imposition is hiring a PO box, having a location to drop off mail for him without anybody knowing how to find him. To stay put in a spot on a map, to risk word dripping out, is too much, too soon. But this...this is okay, for now. A cautious approach forward.

Quickly, so as to not go cold in his foot and wimp out, said man drops his card in that mailbox's slot and hastily turns around again.


As is commonly known, “Squaw” is a survivor of many a tragic fatality around Azincourt, in which this woman was a maid by occupation. But with Augustus Clifford most factually not at all living, Squaw has no lasting obligation to stick around and labor in Calais. So, Squaw finds trans-Atlantic transportation, back across a “small pond,” to start again without haunting shadows looming around. From visiting family in Onondaga nation to writing to San Francisco for cooking tips (just not fish; too many bad associations now), Squaw finds stuff to do to stay busy. That sorrow is put, if not long ago, at minimum particularly far away.

Squaw is fond of using a vulgarity or two to blow off frustration. A good cuss at an apropos hour can allow anybody to chill out and calm down. But it's only words that won't last, Squaw thinks, sounds that drift and land on an aural drum and do not sound again. Why would anybody try to surpass that? Only ruin could occur to a man such as Douglas' pal, poor Anton, hoarding his scraps of ink and dry wood. Why, such a paragon as Douglas was also only toiling in vain, too. For although Douglas would try to stir up sympathy from grand staffs, to transmit joy or sorrow via chords and harmonization, his singing could only last so long. It was cut short on that fatal day that Augustus had shown up back in his world, with tragic follow-up. Against such awful luck, who would add to a list of intonations or a stack of words, and why?

For fun, Abraham Baruch jots off from north California, and as a gift, you know, to act kindly.

That's a disqualifying factor, I'm sorry to say, Squaw sighs, I'm not kind at all, as you know, my mouth is so foul it (blank, blank, blank)s...

Oh, that oughtn't hold you up, Abraham scoffs, if anything, a bit of off-color phrasing is good for making word minimums.

If so, I'm in. How do I sign up?


But what Squaw did not know is that Anton Vowl was living.

In truth, Squaw was hardly high on his list of contacts to inform of his fortuitous survival, and most of that short list was pushing up flora. Though his chitchat at Azincourt was always fond, it was also long past, and his inquiry about that building was only in a vain aspiration that Olga might cling to vitality. So both maid and occasional visitor took flight without thinking of last parting, so long ago.

Anton could not, durst not, stay put, half-knowing that a ghost was about to catch up with him. Not conscious, obviously, that this odious assassin was actually his own grandpa, nor by what tools such an individual might dispatch him, still Anton had no option but to run. And run Anton did, mad and afraid, still assuming any day was probably his last.

But no day, so far, is his last, and though Anton is still roving, afraid of staying put in Paris, Aloysius Swann has not caught up to him, nor has that jinx which has cut down most of his family. And Anton knows, by now, that it is his family that this malady was plaguing. Poking around brought about a dawn of “aha!” and “oh, oops” shocks, and although going back to pay honor to his kin at a tomb is not in his plans right now, still Anton will mail a card or two in sympathy.

Still, what it says is that Swann's grisly plan did fail in a point or two; Anton was still kicking around this mortal coil, and was now practicing law again, occasionally proofing manuscripts at a law journal in downtown Dublin. That said, Anton's dad (Arthur Wilburg Savorgnan) was still totally kaput, without doubt; Anton's lucky flight wasn't much of a consolation on that front. All that anybody could say was that Swann's goal of not killing off Savorgnan until all of his kids bit bits of dust was a bust, and not forcibly put upon him in a binding way by narration or anything.

Also, it was still not obvious if Anton's sibling Yorick Gribaldi was living. It was not a high probability, Anton thought, but that said, his continual inhalation was also of low probability. So who could say? Anton had sworn to go on writing to to Tuscany, looking for an old military man who, turning his back on war, might think to try pacifism. Dissimilar to Horatio's buddy, this Yorick might just pluck his own skull up from a fifth act and dust it off, giving his own soliloquy to a moody protagonist. Who knows?

Now amid all this trickling of mail that Anton follows is an invitation to join up with a group of quirky authors and hobnob in a ridiculous cohort. At first it's scoff-worthy, as commanding a spotlight is just what Anton wants to avoid, but upon scrutinizing small print it dawns on him that this is an opportunity to work anonymously, which isn't so bad. All that its organizational gang asks of him—to start, anyway—is a list of prompts for his author to work with, and to list in turn what kind of works it is his will to script follow-ups to. Along with a small manila kit for his quick turnaround, if s'il vous plaît, is a list of works of fiction, mythology, and so on from which an individual in his position might pick.

So Anton starts browsing through that list and jots down many books with which his familiarity is nontrivial, casually listing all such in a pail. As for what Anton wants...that, in comparison, is thorny. Most of his old books, that Amaury didn't haul away to Azincourt, lay in a stack in his old flat, which Anton had to abandon in a frightful flight. Building up a library again is a laborious task, and calling to mind plots from thin air is oddly tasking. Although it's not as painful as living was prior to that disturbing autumn, with that ominous tingling of an omission all around, still it's no picnic trying to put his thoughts into words.

Okay, so what if Starbuck had shot Captain Ahab with his mighty gun and took command of that big old ship on his own? Or, what if normal sailors had a mutiny and had thrown said captain offboard? Or can you try writing it all from Moby's point of vision? As it says, it wasn't Moby who sought Ahab—so what was Moby looking for all along and why?

What if Radoub got shot during a woods skirmish and couldn't look out for that group of small kids? Would paragon Gauvain awkwardly pitch in, or cynical civilian Cimourdain go back to babysitting duty? Or a happy twist on a Victor Hugo plot (I know, I know) in which Gauvain stoically puts up with his civic duty and Cimourdain sticks around following that for consolation. If you think pastiching is fun, just go on an angry rant about how backwoods hicks can't do anything right and I'll laugh!

How did Kolya Krasotkin turn on to socialism? How did his political and/or spiritual opinions vary following his talk with Alyosha? DO NOT WANT FOR THIS BOOK: any talk about Dmitri as a major protagonist (long story).

Anton calls to mind his old buddy, Dmitri from Karamazov Inc. What a gross-out it is to think about him in a work of art! Nothing against good old Dmitri, but crossing from fiction to a world of truth in such a way isn't Anton's cup of cocoa. Happy that this fourth wall is solidly built, Anton looks back down at his list of books to X off...and to his chagrin, it's not “Karamazov and Family” that was on it, but “Bad Things and Follow-up,” also by its author. Darn. Anton blots out his own unfitting prompt.

Now wallowing in frustration, Anton thinks about pausing this and coming back to it anon. Sitting down, Anton picks up a copy of a sporadic publication and flips to an amusing column, Tomorrow's Quotidian Dispatch. It's a tragicomic log of a fictional youth who, although living in a futuristic sci-fi world which has magical computational toys straining Anton's imagination, still is a bit of a klutz fumbling through daily living, with aid from a tiny robotic “android” so small it can fit in anybody's pants. (“Zounds!” thinks Anton.)

So, hoping for a distraction, Anton starts browsing through, trying to find out what an individual who has cool gizmos at hand will wind up struggling with now...

 

Oh my gosh! Today I got to talk to Christian Bök, my idol! I got into this guy's stuff thanks to his difficult univocalic writings (so Oulipian!), although now Bök is playing around with trippy and far-out notions such as coding a song or a lyric into DNA of a living virus or tiny organism. Amazing, right?

It almost didn't work out, though. Tonight I was looking at my social microblog. (As You Know, Bob, that's an account on which anybody can post a short bit of information using a small amount of words, for anybody who “follows” that author to look at.) I follow Bök not only for his own writing, as cool as it is, but also on account of his links to cool stuff, astronomical and so on. Not all of it is what I'm into, but I just scroll past it. (To “scroll” is to “look at a distinct part of your 'laptop'. A 'laptop' is a 'digital toy you put on top of your lap.'”)

So anyway, I saw that this morning, Bök had said “I'm in [my city] tonight, quoting from my book, Farawaywriting.” I didn't sign in until just that hour, so it was a tossup if I could show up or not. Taking a bus was probably too slow. But I could hail a car to act as a cab using an application on my small Android companion, Hail-A-Car-To-Act-As-A-Cab-For-You!

So I go down and pull up HACTAAACFY and hail a car. But alas, what I don't account for is that my dormitory is within a bunch of twisty, all-similar, small roads and it's not obvious how to show up at my “front door” if you don't know this vicinity. So my first car didn't show up at all, thinking I wasn't around. That's a bunch of dollars thrown away in vain, and a fraction of an hour lost! Oh no! I'm running tardy now.

I start hustling down towards a main drag and hail a HACTAAACFY again from a busy road. On try two, an auto finally shows up. Victory! I go downtown, and although I don't show up promptly, it's all right, for Bök was actually author two of a duo doing a joint signing, and I just miss out on his companion's talk, which it wasn't my plan to go to anyway.

So I find a chair in a small bookshop's back, and sit in on a part from Farawaywriting. For a guy focusing on puzzling scriptcraft, a task you could do without making any sound, this is a noisy affair, full of braggadocio and trumping up his own skill. “Wow, I'm so cool, I totally got Canada's ministry to fund my lab with lots of loons! Amazing, huh?” Bök crows. “Anyway, I'll now talk about how fatal and awful this galaxy is, with nightmarish dark moons looming around any sun, nova, or brown dwarf you can squint at!” Dramatic, “artsy,” stuff.

But I got a photograph with him (hooray!), and bought a copy of Farawaywriting which Bök would graciously sign. Again, I would call upon HACTAAACFY to aid with a trip back to my room, which was no hardship (as I just said “stop at this building, avoid what maps will try to hint”).

And I would go back to my social microblog to post my joy at such an occasion. A univocalic outburst, obviously!

Anton laughs, glad that all could work out for such a goofy dork. And picking up his list of prompts gain, Anton is struck by a thought; why not ask for a story taking its inspiration from Tomorrow's Quotidian Dispatch? It's an odd foundation to build from, but it's a valid option. So, thinks Anton, why not?

I think it's funny that our narrator finds transportation so scary, although in a (possibly) familiar city. (Did driving instruction not occur, or just not go too far?) How would such a human function in an unknown town? And could that funny “android” assist? If you don't want to do this, who is this Bob that said narrator is always talking to and assuming Bob knows all?

And, finding this a satisfying group of prompts, Anton drops his signup into a mailbox.


Days pass. Anton is looking into his PO box and, aha! Mail is in, not a bill or a daily account, not a solicitation or a coupon, but a standard-looking form implying that many forms, with lots and lots of stamps, winding up in many hands across a sprawling world of authors, all look much as it will as soon as Anton rips into it.

A list of prompts—good, good—and a road and a town and a woman to whom that story which is forthcoming should go. Anton squints. US of A? Not a roadblock too high for such a cosmopolitan to surmount—and if it was, mailing his draft to a local branch of that group all authors can thank for coordination of matching, who would forward it on, was an option. But that “stay on a downlow about it, but your gift is for Squaw!” part. His buddy from Azincourt was living, saw horror following horror and quit a country that was a nourishing harbor for too many months to count—and probably still in mourning for Anton.

This is going to turn out slightly awkwardly.

Still, all Anton can do is focus on writing a good story. Most of Squaw's prompts nod at unknown Anglo books, and Anton skims through such blurbs. Finally, Anton lights on a book that got thrown into his “pail” list on a whim. Oops. Possibly not such a good call to do that, not having it in his flat at this hour.

Oh, it's not hard for such a polymath as Anton to jot down many, possibly thousands, of words sounding similar to that book. Fights! Romantic liaisons! Surprising family bonds! No holy writ, no book of faith, no glorious canon has a tonal spirit similar to this. But as for duplicating its fictional protagonists and antagonists with accuracy, staying sort of faithful to its plot...it was too long ago that Anton put it down. Brushing up on it is what's fitting.

And so, Anton walks down to his local library.


Anton first walks to a card catalog, as a good book-hobbyist might. This branch has not a solitary copy of that sought-for book in its box, but two. Now, not finding it in this branch is not a catastrophic occasion; Anton could find a loan from a branch that is not this branch. Still, good to try what's local first.

Its first copy is... its card says... Lost. Lost? This book? That's a bad sign.

But copy two is, according to its card anyway, on a fifth-floor rack. Optimistically, Anton climbs up to that fifth story. Skims its racks. A handful of books in translation, a handful by similar authors. This location is as right as any.

But this book is conspicuously missing.

Cursing irony, Anton troops back down to his library's first story and asks for circulation. “I'm so sorry, but I can't find this book.”

“What is its call digit?”

“A fifth-story digit, look...”

“Aha! Thanks to a good difficulty, known as 'too many books,' that group of books is spilling to many racks. Try looking on carts, around back of stairways, and so on, up top again. I'm hoping it'll turn up; if not, ask us again.”

“Okay, thanks.”

So again Anton climbs back up top. It's not on carts, but thankfully, on a bonus rack hiding by a stairway, a bunch of fiction books lurk in wait. Anton gladly finds his, and climbs down to borrow a copy of Ghost Soup: Unfaithful Cyan.


Anton works on and off, and following bouts of activity, is happy with his first draft.

 

Anna was kissing Anna Two-Point-Oh. This was a fairly normal activity for both humans. (Occasionally Moira would join in, but on account of Moira's duty scouting forward to look out for a distant lunar approach or scary spatial junk, which Moira would unfailingly carry out with dubiously magical ability, slacking off via romantic activity was mostly Anna and Anna-Two-Point-Oh's hobby.)

On such a normal and unusual day, Lucas thought it a good plan to walk in and ruin all folks' mood. “Oh hi gals and guys,” said Lucas, “what is up?”

“Not any particular point of a compass,” said Josh, “on account of gravity is not a thing out in this void among stars.”

“Nobody wants to know about your dumb physics skills,” said Ryan.

“But I am in a ship in a void among stars,” said Josh sadly.

“Not your probability of dating Anna,” said Anna Two-Point-Oh triumphantly, “who is busy.”

“Oh, that's it! That's your last straw!” Lucas said angrily. “I'm so mad about you rubbing salt in that wound which is my bad past with Anna that I could just... could just...”

“What will you do?” Ryan said sarcastically. “Hurt poor Anna Two-Point-Oh?”

“No,” Lucas said in a moody sulk with a cross of his arms, for although Lucas was touchy and particularly proud, it was not in his way to kill a buddy who was also a good protagonist. (Lucas would just as soon put it in Ryan's hands to up any plot's body count.)

“Okay, cool!” said Anna Two-Point-Oh. “As I'm off that particular hook, I'll just go back to kissing Anna now. Thanks for your visit, and can I just say, on your forthcoming visits don't try and do small talk.”

“I did not finish,” said Lucas. “I will not act in a physically injurious way. But I will talk at you two. And if you hark to what I say, I think you will not find it fun or good to know about. Assuming I can split up this happy pair, I totally stand a possibility at winding up with Anna again.”

“Try us. But if it's about our pasts with Moira, you can just stop trying,” said Anna. “I'm forgiving, and so is Anna Two-Point-Oh.”

“Awfully similar, isn't it? You might say, uncannily similar.”

“I might say a lot of things,” said Josh. “My voluntary will allows such volition to say what I want. So do you want to monolog dramatically, or do you want to say your bit?”

“Okay, okay,” said Lucas. “Anna Two-Point-Oh...is a biological copy of Anna!”

Gasps sounding from all parts of that room said “What?”

“A biological copy is just as similar to you as a twin is, only not sharing your birthday, but coming along following you thanks to artificial tools for birthing humans. I'm not down with all this lingo, but all of us work and play on a ship that sails amid stars, is it so outlandish that a cool tool that would allow for growing humans starting from living human biological samplings is a thing that could show up?”

“I admit, that tool is a thing that could show up,” said Anna. “But just saying that isn't convincing. Why do you think I'm as similar as a twin to this woman?”

“I can think of a bunch of justifications. This many, in fact,” said Lucas, putting his hand up and ticking off digits. “Firstly, most of us swing our light-swords with our right hands—uh-huh, Ryan, I am watching you flail around with ridiculous bursts of colorful light and looking as a madman who might want to kill his pals. But only you two adopt a southpaw grip. Point two. 'Mail Your Family A Photograph Of That Location In Which You Work Day' was an apocalyptic promotion on my part, thanks to Moira sobbing into a quasar monitoring outpost all day, Ryan—again—polishing his light-sword scabbard, Josh whistling and looking spiritual and looming, and most importantly, you two kissing on company hours as usual, and Anna Two-Point-Oh asking for known locations of 'similar study participants'. Thirdly, both of you will vomit up AstroFoodPak portions of cyan color, which is not only ugly to mop up in null gravity, but is an odd trait not found in most of us; as all but a small minority of our population finds such foodstuff highly nourishing, it's a good option for long-flight navigation. Fourthly, I am a captain of high rank, and I can bring up most of your applications to this program, which is why I know all about your criminal history—Ryan—and your irritating capacity for provocation of ivory-attic bigwigs—Josh—but if I try to draw upon Anna Two-Point-Oh's familial history, all I find is Classification Too High, Go Away. And fifthly, Moira is a chatty drunk and said that both of your proportions match up downstairs.”

“I'll admit, that's a bunch of solid points,” said Josh, “but it's not proof.”

“Oh and I forgot a sixth point,” said Lucas, “Anna Two-Point-Oh is known as Anna Two-Point-Oh, as in, similar to Anna but not so!”

“Gosh darn,” said Anna Two-Point-Oh, “my jig is up.”

“What!” Anna said in shock, “it's actually truthful?”

“I'm afraid so.”

“This isn't a possibility! Oh, you awful man, dragging all our family history out into this burning light in this way. I won't go back to loving you, not at all!”

“Quick inquiry, sorry to butt in,” said Josh, “is this Lucas' only shocking fact for us?”

“I think so,” said Lucas, “why?”

“I just think if you know anything about anybody's family, Anna and Anna Two-Point-Oh notwithstanding, you should bring it up now and not wait.”

“Oh, that's fair. No, that's all that I know.”

“Okay, cool. Carry on.”

“I'm fond of your loyalty. And I think as you think, Lucas is a villain for dumping this all on us in this fashion,” said Anna Two-Point-Oh.

“That's not cool, stop modifying history,” Lucas said. “And obviously you think as Anna thinks, your brain is as Anna's!”

“If you don't want to stay as my paramour, I won't try forcing my body on you or anything,” said Anna Two-Point-Oh, going on. “But for what it's worth, I don't think loving an individual who is just as hot and smart and supporting as I am is a bad thing at all.”

“Aw, shucks,” said Anna. “You know what? A stray moon or light-sword could blow us up any day. You and I should go for it.”

“That's my woman!” said Anna Two-Point-Oh, giving Anna a big kiss.

“No!” said Lucas. “No no no, that wasn't my plan at all.”

Ryan could only shrug.

“Josh, my moral compass, back your captain up on this point. Is this not as gross and wrong as sibling romantic activity?”

“It's gross and I'm not a fan—” Josh said.

“As I was saying!” Lucas said with a grin.

“But zooming out, looking at a galactic map, I can think of a bunch of things not just wrong, but wrong in such a way that this looks not so critical.”

“Such as what?”

“Oh, you know, capricious killing,” Josh had to point out.

“That's a good point. Darn you for your accuracy, moral compass!”

“Your moralizing is a buzzkill,” said Ryan, stabbing Lucas with his light-sword.

“Oh hi guys, and gals,” said Moira, climbing back from a scouting trip, “what's up?”

Truly, thinks Anton, a work of art. Anton picks up his copy of Squaw's asks to find out how to mail it in, and upon picking it up, finds that it had words on its back. Huh, Anton wasn't looking at that prior to now. It's probably not too important, but worth looking through anyway.

I didn't ask for any killing off of protagonists in my story as a particular plot point, but if you think that's what your story wants to push it forward, that's okay—I'm sort of callous and hard to shock on that front. But I do not want: any hint at all of siblings in romantic pairings, making out, and/or so on. It's not important if it's by adoption, by blood, or by “blood that got put into a bank and a baby was grown anon” (if that's how what you think of ambiguous jargony paragraphs in Ghost Soup: Unfaithful Cyan). I just...don't want that kind of thing in my fiction. Thanks.

“Argh!” says Anton. Alas. Back to a drawing board.


So Anton toils to draft a copy two, knowing that his work is only partially solitary. For although nobody looks at his writing, nor laughs at his brainstorming, many folks just as anonymous as him go about crafting at hours similar to his own–or at midnight to his noon, in far-flung towns.

It dawns upon Anton, in this rhythm of work and hobby, amid going back and forth from law duty to his flat, that his mind is calm. That night is not full of conscious paranoia, but only a happy lull, a gap, a worthy omission, from post-sundown to nigh-on-sunup. His insomnia is a thing of his past, and it's almost as if Anton is a normal man.

No, not “normal”–still an orphan, his birth mom and dad lost to him, his grandpa far past plain old lost. Still far from his old habitations and pals, still hoarding books upon books in his flat, a pack rat possibly to a fault. Not a typical individual, Anton admits, taking stock of his biography.

But if it was not in his cards to do ordinary things, what can such a man do but try to do odd things? Possibly, Anton thinks, this is why taking on odd fights in court is stirring, wrangling about grammar until opposition is hung up in linguistic knots. And off-clock, too, is an opportunity to try outlandish arts. If normalcy is not in his cards, all a man can do is cling to abnormality and, notwithstanding what is thrown at him, hang on for all his living is worth, and not fall, until it's a thing of which anybody is proud.

Anton's blossoming faith has a whiff of a sacrificial bargain, on occasion; only by giving up a tool thought highly worthy can a pilgrim find actual bliss in making do and going without. But in phrasing it too similarly to Catholic philosophy put to mind in childhood, Anton risks putting his thoughts within limits, good only for a handful most similar to him, almost cultish. What Anton grasps for, possibly, is a truth that is truth for all, at any location, at any hour. Vain pompous impostors rashly boast “only so many quantums of joy can fit in ink, and now our world has run out, with too many killings for rhyming, for singing, for play, so quit looking for happy codas, fools,” and in his last panicking days in Paris, Anton was afraid that that was right. But now his waking up and his dozing off soundly at night is proof that it is not so. Anton, living and thumbing his nostrils to Swann's plots, is proof that it is not, was not, and won't work out so.

And so a morning dawns on which Anton turns up a lyric by William Wordsworth, “Nuns panic not.”

 

Nuns panic not within a narrow room,
And happy, too, can you find many monks
And scholars studying in thoughtful bunks.
A spinning maid or craftsman at his loom
Sit proud and happy; bugs that soar for bloom,
Or ivory protruding from broad trunks
Of mammoths who don't fall into sad funks.
In truth, a prison into which I doom
My soul no prison is. And so it ain't,
In sundry moods, a bad thing that I'm bound
Within a lipogram's thin plot of ground,
Glad if a kin soul, liking this constraint
Who wants to work with such colorful paint
Should find such lasting joy as that I found.

Just that day, Squaw is working on a hilarious mixup involving two Dromios both talking to an Antipholus but not knowing which Antipholus is which. (But no twins kissing twins.)

And Abraham Baruch finds a loan from a faraway branch of a law library to obtain a copy of Bulgarian scholars critiquing Kant, for jump-starting a story for lookingstoat.

And Yorick Gribaldi starts drawing a map of a city, a city that is in his world in truth, but with turns and winding ways that might still spring forth from minds unknown in faroff days...


All right, thinks Anton, now this should do it.

 

Bam! Whoosh! Bang! Pow!

Ryan had thought that starting a fatal light-sword fight with Lucas was probably a good thing. It was loud.

“Do you think I ought to go look in on that duo?” Anna panics.

“It's probably nothing,” says Anna Two-Point-Oh, who for sounding similar to Anna lacks much of that woman's practicality. “Allow manly folks to work out manly conflicts in manly ways, that's what I think.”

“I say, Anna Two-Point-Oh, want to look at my cool scouting gizmos? I got a bunch of flashy stuff during our lunar sojourn,” Moira brags.

“You know I do!” says Anna Two-Point-Oh, who follows Moira to a starboard room in which all that kind of nifty cosmos-glimpsing stuff hangs out.

But back in this ship's inauspicious captain's wing, Ryan hacks away at Lucas. “You suck a lot!” Ryan taunts.

“Not so fast,” says Lucas, “for my light-sword is a radiant cyan, and your ugly crimson isn't as cool as this is. So who sucks now?”

“Oh, you think your sword is so cool?” Ryan says. “Watch this.” And Ryan starts charging forward, full-on at Lucas. In a flash, without warning, his light-sword flips its color. Now it's cyan! Just as Lucas' is!

“But... but... I don't know how this is a possibility?” Lucas is in shock. “You would attack your captain, using his own sword color against him! What an awful traitor! You darn unfaithful cyan!”

“If you back off and run away as a coward would, you can probably draw a conclusion what will occur. Yup, your own proud sword will start burning crimson! So it's up to you. Slink off as a rat might, or stand up for that cyan you crow about so much.”

“I won't back down! You did start this fight, but I will finish it!”

“Okay, as you wish,” says Ryan, and starts sparring again. Lucas fights back. But it's just as obviously crimson-on-cyan as it was a jiffy ago. Ryan's sword is blood-dark again.

“Um,” says Lucas, “what?”

“Sorry, can I try this again?” Ryan asks. “I'll go into a run, and land a killing blow, and all.”

“How about not? I don't want you to land any killing blows.”

“Okay, ” Ryan says, “so how about this, what if I got all my talking out of our way first, and only following that do I attack?”

“That's... probably okay?” says Lucas, still parrying.

“Right. So you know all about physics, don't you? Not as much as I know about killing but anyway. If a thing is going away from you, it turns crimson, and its pitch is low. If a thing is going towards you, it turns cyan, and its pitch is high. Think of a horn on a car going past. So as I go at you, my light will shift cyan. As you back off, you wimp, yours shifts crimson. It's not a good guy/bad guy, black hat kind of symbolism, it's just who attacks/who's not so strong as to start an attack.”

“Oh, okay, shifts. I know about shifts. But isn't that only a thing that occurs if I'm moving highly fast?”

“Right. But I am moving highly fast, as I am on a ship which is hurtling amid stars and moons.”

“But so am I. So if you attack anybody on this ship, that shouldn't occur, as you can't walk or run rapidly vis-a-vis us.”

“Don't say what I can or can't do!”

“Now, if our ship was in a fight with an opposing ship, right, and it was coming on fast, and you shot at that kind of craft...”

“You think too much, old fool, your guard is down!” During Lucas' last paragraph, Ryan was moving backwards. Now Ryan runs forwards, shining cyan again, and on this occasion aims truly, stabbing Lucas in his front. “Wow, that was almost too simplistic.”

Ryan joins his companions again; Anna is working at a communications station, and Anna Two-Point-Oh is inquiring of Moira how to find a gravitational anomaly that is good for a fast turnaround if it's important at any point. “Mostly luck,” Moira admits, “my tools can't do that.”

“Alack,” says Anna Two-Point-Oh.

Josh is practicing his navigational skill. Such as it is. “Josh,” says Lucas, “you turn rightwards too much. Don't do that.”

“Huh, okay,” says Josh, who isn't flipping out about talking to a man who isn't actually around. “Should I go this way?”

“Right—not rightwards, but that's how you should go—but not that far! You idiot.”

“That's not cool,” Josh says sadly. “Okay, to go fast, I hit this button, to go slow, I tap on that, to shoot at anything flying by—”

“You do not shoot at anything flying by, that's not navigation's job, and also, I didn't know you suck this much at navigation, so I think you should stop doing that. Ryan can do this, I don't trust him on shooting patrol. You can do this, what could go wrong. You could wimp out and our ship could blow up, that, you'll cross that road if you show up at it. Okay, I'm sold, go find Ryan.”

“Cool,” says Josh, and walks by to find Ryan. “Hi, Ryan?”

“What?” says Ryan surlily.

“You should go do navigation, and I'm on guns.”

“Says who?”

“Says Lucas! Just now.”

“That's an impossibility.”

“No it's not, I was just talking with him.”

“Lucas is DOA, you moron, his body is in that room down that corridor!”

“Huh, that's awkward. Sorry for doubting you, but I should probably confirm that,” said Josh, striding down to look on his own. And as Ryan had said, Lucas' unliving form was lying down, a stab wound in it.

“So as is obvious,” Ryan is saying as Josh walks back in, “Josh was just hallucinating, so I can stay on gun duty.”

“That's a falsity!” says Josh. “I was talking to Lucas' ghost or spirit or I don't know what, but it was a fact.”

“Ghosts and spirits! Pfft, that's just mythical talk.”

“Nah,” says Lucas, “it's just as much a plausibility as your ridiculous chromatic shift at low-fractions-of-luminous-rapidity jargon.”

“Just now!” says Josh. “That was Lucas!”

“I can't pick up on him,” says Ryan.

“Would my scouting stuff aid you?” Moira asks.

“For this kind of task? I don't think so,” Josh sighs.

“This is kind of scary,” says Anna. “Going on to a blissful joy sounds as if it's a good thing for Lucas, but sticking around without a final point just to haunt folks such as us? I think I might go with oblivion.”

“Nah, I did cross to a blissful joy and stuff, it just has a random bonus ability or two such as talking to you folks. And by 'you folks' I signify a fifth of you who can pick up on this,” says Lucas.

“Nobody can mourn, spat about ship duty, or try to conduct a ghostly ritual on a stomach that's dry,” says Anna Two-Point-Oh. “Who wants soup?”

“I do!” says Anna.

“Nobody wants soup,” says Moira, “it's sticky and awkward in a starship, find a bunch of AstroFoodPaks, thanks.”

“Ugh, no," says Anna, “I gag on AstroFoodPaks.”

“Now that Lucas isn't around all of us can find lots of food to chow down on and it will go around comfortably,” says Ryan.

“That's not comforting,” Moira says.

“Lucas?” Josh asks. “You around?”

“I'm around,” says Lucas.

“If Ryan isn't giving in, will you assist in my navigational study? I actually am trying hard.”

“I'll always look out for you,” says Lucas. “But I think you can start practicing on your own.”

And so that grand old ship sails on, now missing a sixth of its cohort, but—on occasion—finding him still around.


At last, Anton finds a card waiting for him in his own PO box; it's instructions from a kind mailwoman who asks him to sign for a small box. Anton picks it up, shaking it and smiling at a sound of rustling margins. By now, Anton knows, his trust has grown again, and a vision of writing to an anonymous gang running algorithms, putting his contact information into blurry hands, isn't as daunting as it was with thoughts of Swann still hot in his mind. If this swap has a round two for him, his participation might not start from hiding.

But it's not All Saints Day at this junction; autumn's long shadows did fall away long ago, and now spring's flourishing is at hand. It is May Day, a day for giving gifts in anonymity, a day to uplift labor in groups, a day far-flung from Anton's missing past. From now on, this is a day of communal joy.

And individual, too. For Anton blinks at that “From:” tag, in shock. Yorick’s survival wasn’t a probability, but Anton knows too much to say it's not a possibility. Upon savoring his story, Anton thinks, possibly a follow-up with that Unknown Author could occur?

It's not ridiculous.

 

What a fantastic night. I'm participating in a most fulfilling tour of Paris, and it was all to my liking. No, not just liking, but loving! Part of my spirit was afraid to build up too much of awaiting for this trip, afraid that it could all go wrong. What if I was too sick to walk with a gripping malady, a pain in my scalp that would not quit, an attack of vomiting, and it would ruin a day? What if I was hoping past hoping to look at only a particular tourist trap and it was too full of folks just as flocking to look at it as I am and I could not fit in, or if it cost too much for practicality? What if any local, any navigator with a possibility of pointing towards good locations for stopping and buying a croissant to snack on at lunch o'clock, was quick to shun such a dumb clown as I am—I, who am only Anglo (with a hint of high school Spanish, but, that's not important now), who could not function in this local linguistic community past a childish “oui” or “non”?

But, oh miraculous tidings, it didn't occur. This vacation so far was a blast, and upon harking to an inquiry of “did you accomplish all that you want to?” I don't say anything, just thinking back to spots I hit up so far. With my kin, lots of stops that draw lots of folks in to gawk, admiring past works of art, faith, and cultural tradition. It was an individual goal to look for and find locations honoring historical scholars; “Doctor So and So did catch z's in this building;” “in this suburb Such and Such's dad was a big shot.”

My siblings say “yup, I'm good, onwards to stop two tomorrow?”

My dad, though, noticing my prolonging of “this is truth buuuuuut,” says, “this night is still young, and our amazing public transportation pass is still valid. Can I accompany you to a distinct location?”

“I think I can do it on my own, with my trusty android's aid,” I say, thankful again for that tiny robot in my pants. Actually in my dad's backpack, on account of Paris is too classy for a youth such as I to go tramping around in robotic-toting pants. For fashion points, slacks that don't carry digital companions must suit for this city.

“What is it?” my mom asks.

“It's a road,” I say, “that honors an author from this town who I think is cool. I was looking him up on a Virtual Data Hoard.” (A Virtual Data Hoard, As You Know, Bob, is akin to a library for finding out important facts about individuals or locations, but isn't as slow as walking to a library, and has a surplus of information.) “I couldn't quickly find a habitation to go to, or a bust on a campus, or a tomb to photograph, or a train station in his honor, but I thought that finding a road sign that says 'in honor of this guy' is cool. Though I can't look at this author's books without translation, I'm a gigantic fan of his linguistic constraints and wordplay, and his cohort's stylistic gaming around. So if I had an opportunity to go look for this road, I'd want to do that. According to this map my robotic buddy has, I think it's only a hop, skip, and a jump from this railway station two subways from our inn, and I'm good with riding Parisian subways by now!”

“That sounds fun,” says my mom. “I'll go with you.”

“You can stay back, I think I can do it on my own.”

“Don't worry about it.”

So riding a train or two is no difficulty at all, not as troubling as our first try catching a local bus at night was... but anyway, Bob, that's a distinct story. With no doubt in my mind which stop is ours, my mom and I walk out and start looking around. At that point, trying to walk through unknown roads and glancing down at my android at any crossing, I am actually thankful that I'm not totally on my own for this occasion; this part of town isn't as lit up or built as richly as buildings surrounding our inn. Still, night air is tranquil, and it looks as if forward motion is occurring.

Roads grow narrow, and signs start honoring individuals, not just big and important institutions or abstractions. This looks right. But my road that I'm looking for is... just (oh, what irony)... missing.

“Do you mind circling back around?” I ask. “Try looking again, from up top. And if you and I can't find it, call it a night and go back to our train station, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Blip-bloop,” says my robot, not aiding us at all.

“Oh, shut up,” I say.

So circling up a back road, I start looking again, at first in vain. Until it dawns on us.

It isn't actually a road. That is to say, it is not a road of asphalt, on which you could try driving your car or truck, or on in front of which you could build a habitation. It is too narrow. It is almost a dark back-road, in which your imagination could call up a stock photo of a vagabond lying in wait or a rousing sport of kicking cans. But it is also not this, on account of, it isn't lying flat. What it is is a stairway.

A stairway! On which you can climb up and down, binding low roads with high roads. This curiosity, this gimmick, still shows up on a map, still counts just as much as any road, and it is all part of that warp and woof of this city.

I know I am lucky, past words, for partaking in such a night as this. To many, my optimism might look shallow. But I think this author would find it amusing, too.