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ISSUE #27

September 2015

FICTION

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Front & Back cover art
by Rew X

The Demon of Russet Street

by Jessica Reisman

 

“There’s been a disassembling in the Shoals,” Marshal Luin announced as she navigated the narrow stone stairs behind Rusk’s house.

Reaching the garden at the bottom, where Rusk had spent his early morning reading, she added, “An unattached farrago named Sirin.”

“A murder, you mean?” Rusk said, mildly. Alerted to the marshal’s arrival by the house shedu, he stood waiting by the table where he’d been reading, one hand on the logos, the carved, ancient ivory of his fingers taking dull gleam from the early sun. The garden was unruly with summer flowers. A fountain splashed into a stone pool and the murmur and trill of insect and bird life threaded through the air from a small orchard.

Rusk’s maker Ayatta, an inventor of some renown about whom little had been known, had amassed wealth carelessly in recompense for her inventions and kept to herself, a foreigner in a city of foreigners. When she died, she left Rusk everything, the stone townhouse and its steep garden, the house shedu and her other inventions, the rare and treasured logos on which he’d been reading.

The marshal, a small woman with silvered hair, dark skin dotted with pale age spots, and light-irised eyes, looked away at Rusk’s word, murder, her mouth tightening. Her formal marshal uniform cut a dark, crisp slash in the haze of morning light.

“According to the law, it’s a disassembling, Rusk. As such I have to treat it.” Luin’s expression begged his understanding — and because she was only there for his assistance precisely because he would treat it as murder, when she could not, he nodded.

Ayatta had been clever and thorough, and so Rusk occupied a unique position among the farragoes of Acheron city, neither the property of a deviser nor an abandoned artifact without rights. In the two years since Ayatta’s death, the controversy over Rusk’s situation had faded; the oddity of a farrago with the unprecedented privilege afforded by Ayatta’s wealth was now just a part of the city’s character. To some he was a symbol of hope, to others the exception that proved the rule.

He knew what people saw when they looked at him. In a city full of varied races and farragoes, he was not so strange: instead of the ivory and bone with which she’d shaped his limbs, Ayatta had sculpted his body, head, and face of ceramics and steel, gloved in alembic-grown skin, soft as velvet.

Awareness of his nonhuman status never left him.

Rusk gestured to the chairs and table.

The house shedu arrived on its leather and rod wings, a small metal-plated lion’s body with the head, arms, and torso of a young man. Setting down a tray holding two cups and a plate of sliced fruit, the shedu departed just as swiftly and silently as it had come.

“What can you tell me?” Rusk asked as he put the plate of fruit by Luin and handed her a cup.

She sniffed the tea liquor in the cup and hmmed, eyes closing a moment. “The farrago’s name was Sirin; he ran an advocacy center for farragoes in the Shoals. He’d gotten up the noses of a few powerful people. But he had respect in the Shoals community.”

Ayatta had threaded carvings in Rusk’s arms, hands, and fingers with sensors. Through them now, Rusk felt the marshal’s perturbation, the sub-dermal twitch of her skin that said she was distressed. She was a moral woman, Luin, as far as she could be; the state of farrago rights troubled her.

The Shoals, the farrago district of the city and nominally part of the neighborhood Luin marshaled, were not far, geographically, from where they sat.

But a world apart, in other ways.

Luin nibbled on a slice of yellow persimmon, bright in her dark fingers.

“They’re good this year,” she said. She peered toward the grove, a shadowed tangle under the morning sun.

“Who was Sirin’s deviser?”

“Droma,” Luin said.

Rusk felt the echo of an old ache. Droma had been the last of the Liberties, of which Ayatta had been a member, the group of devisers, lawmakers, and activists responsible for opening the debate on the status of farragoes as beings with more rights than objects to be owned. Droma had been one of Ayatta’s closer colleagues. In the law’s view, Droma would be the victim of Sirin’s disassembling, but Droma had died some months before Ayatta.

“The Devisers College is … more concerned with other matters than a disassembling when there’s no owner to press for justice,” Luin said.

Rusk kept from snorting and Luin’s lips twisted.

“You’ll look into it?”

“Yes,” Rusk nodded. It was not the first time Luin had requested his assistance in a matter that involved the farrago district.

It was the first time that matter was murder.

After the marshal left, Rusk sat in thought at the table. The old deviser’s journal he had been reading on Ayatta’s logos flickered as it reset to its plain state.

On a logos one could call up a particular book or a list of books on a particular subject, and then each volume on the list—Rusk had yet to find the limit in the capacity and range of Ayatta’s — and the logos became that book. A hand-bound journal, slim hard cover, fat paperback, scroll, manuscript, folio, tablet, weighty tome with buckles and illuminated cover — a true portable library of actual books. Logosi were rare and valuable.

With a flick of one finger, Rusk brought back the journal he’d been reading, a brown book with heavily overwritten and doodled pages, crackly with time and the stains of miscellaneous lab fluids. He considered a passage Ayatta had highlighted in the journal at some point in the past.

We are all palimpsests, wiped clean by each breath. Words and images, scars and hurts drift to the surface ghosting through and coloring the moment, the now, strangely, again and again, but again and again, wiped clean, until the paper shreds and all that will be writ is memory.

• • •

Perched above a tidal bay on the Over Ocean, the city of Acheron towered with shadows, an aggregate of the hardwood forests and rocky tors from which it had been raised. Found empty a hundred years past, Acheron had been re-occupied by a variety of peoples from all points of the compass. It was a stone and ironwood relic of cistern engineering and thoughtful architecture—in all precincts but the Shoals.

Where most of Acheron had been hewn from solid stone, the crumbling warehouses of the Shoals had been constructed of crushed rock mixed with mud; the resulting architecture, eaten by sea wind and storm, was shored up with mud from the flats, patches of wood, sand castings, scavenged metal, broken industrial ceramics, and other recycled materials. It had been divided over and over into smaller bits of real estate, housing warrens, a grey market, gaming dens. Hodge-podge architecture for hodge-podge tenants. The area swam in sea fog most hours of the day and night.

Rusk found the advocacy center where it sat in a much-patched warehouse building on Russet Street. The center was closed to observe the loss of its founder, but soon, a sign in the window by the door promised, to reopen.

Through the window, the center was dark and looked empty.

Rusk twisted the tip of his left pointer finger precisely; a lock pick slid out with a quiet snick. Inside, the space was tall and drafty and filled with podium desks and tables with mismatched chairs on either side. For conferencing between clients and advocates, Rusk surmised.

It was not entirely empty.

A woman, full human, stood at one of the podiums, leaning forward with her elbows on an open folder of papers, fiddling with something in her hands. She was sucking on a hard candy; Rusk could smell the sugar.

In the sparse light from the windows, a forest of shadows lay between them. The woman met his gaze, but didn’t say anything, studying him. Despite the youth implied by the way she sucked at her candy, she was older, lines at her eyes and the corners of her mouth, softness to her neck. Her eyes were dark, her skin and hair pale; in a city of exotically varied humans and farragoes, she was not notable.

“You’re from the Devisers College,” he said, after a long moment of mutual studying.

“Rusk. You’re as beautiful as they always say. And as perceptive.” She cocked her head. “How did you know?”

“You remind me of Ayatta,” Rusk said. The woman recalled Ayatta to him so strongly, in fact, that Rusk felt a sense of dislocation. Though his deviser had been dark of skin and hair and striking, if not beautiful, there was a sharpness here, an air of unrestrained inquiry and focus, so very like Ayatta the two women could have been siblings.

“The brilliant Ayatta,” the woman said. “I’m flattered.” She clicked the candy against her teeth. “So what are you doing here, ’zam Rusk?”

“Looking into a murder, at Marshal Luin’s request.”

She nodded, as if he confirmed her own conclusion. “I’m Karst Noa,” she said, “Currently serving as catastrophic failure examiner at the college.”

“’Zama Karst.” Rusk inclined in a fractional bow. “So you examined Sirin’s remains.”

A nod.

“It wasn’t exactly failure that befell Sirin.”

“No.” She lifted and dropped her shoulders in a shrug. “But it was fairly catastrophic for him.” Her lip turned up slightly.

Rusk didn’t react to the joke. He could scent furtiveness on her. “Is the college investigating Sirin’s murder then?”

“You mean the destruction of the farrago created by Deviser Droma?” Karst Noa said, and showed her stand on the rights of farragoes with the statement—quite intentionally, Rusk sensed. Her resemblance to Ayatta evaporated. “No, ’zam Rusk,” her use of the honorary held a note of irony now, “I’m investigating etheric traces left on the farrago’s parts, a residue we haven’t seen before.”

“Oh? How curious. It’s different than the prana?” Prana was what Ayatta had called the life force, her breath that was now his breath.

Karst Noa grimaced at his mention of the word, as if he’d said something in very poor taste. “Markedly,” she said. She came out from behind the podium and Rusk saw that the thing in her hands was a small device. A kind of energy reader, perhaps, though he’d never seen one like it. She held it up between herself and Rusk, scanning Rusk without trying to hide it.

Karst’s brows rose, then she shut the devise abruptly. Her gaze on Rusk was sharp and curious.   

Rusk glanced toward the stairs in a dark hall at the back of the room. Sirin had lived — and died — above the center.

But Karst Noa was between him and the stairs and she wasn’t moving. A jagged creeping sense through his carvings told him it was the better part of discretion not to try and pass by her.

 Resolved to return later, he gave the woman a stiff, slight bow and departed, feeling her gaze on him long after he’d left the center behind.

• • •

In the grey market, Rusk found one of his contacts, Chierzisa, sitting on a tumbled down half wall, picking the raisins out of a sticky ball with two of her seven crystal-nailed fingers. Chierzisa was an augmented human, the sort born missing a limb or other part, left as a babe with the Devisers College where such children were made farrago as a combination of community service and deviser student training. She had one arm of ugly parts and a seven-fingered hand glittering with rough crystal, her opposite leg a sleek, sprung wonder of devisement. Her human limbs were pale skinned, pock-marked, and knotted with wiry muscle.

She eyed Rusk and flicked a raisin away. “’Zam Rusk.”

“Diligence, Chierzisa.” Rusk joined her against the half wall, putting his hands in the pockets of his loden coat. He never called her ’zama; it made her growl. “What do you hear, kaa’ma?”

Flick. The dirty floor was dotted with raisins. “About what, ’zam?”

“A farrago named Sirin, ran an advocacy center.”

“Figured they’d fob that off on you.” She inspected the sticky ball for further offence. “And you, being the good little well-made farrago, are to investigate the unfortunate ‘disassembling’.”

“Murder,” Rusk said.

She grunted, took a bite of sticky ball and said around it, “You say. But whoever did it won’t get charged with nothing.”

Nearby, two merchants started arguing over a spot in the patchwork market.

“He was a do-gooder, Sirin,” Chierzisa said, with a curl of lip. “Just your sort.”

A full human, well dressed and slumming, stopped by them, eyes on Rusk. He made a specific gesture with his left hand. Rusk shook his head, looking away; Chierzisa growled low in her throat, a fierce sound — one of the reasons Rusk called her kaa’ma, little lion. Chierzisa often called Rusk the garnish, or the bauble, and she resented him and the privilege he was afforded — but she hated full humans more. The man shrugged and moved off.

Rusk was used to such approaches. Ayatta had fashioned him of ivory carved from the giant bones of extinct beasts, from ammolite, and nacre; for his hair she used many thousands of silk threads in all shades of umber and shadow. A cunning mixture of seawater and nut oil pumped in his torso and the veins she fashioned to lubricate the servos of his joints. For a heart he had a miniature dynamo, a dangerous thing of enormous power contained only by Ayatta’s genius and artistry. His brain she called a palimpsest, and had noted nothing more about it in her devising journals. She had called life into him on her own breath, so he breathed, and that was the life in him; the clockwork and sea steam and dynamo of his heart might continue on, but if the animus, the prana, of her breath left him, he believed his life would go with it.

“Word was,” Chierzisa said as she licked her fingers, skin and crystal alike, of sticky ball remains, “Sirin was dealing his own parts to prop up the center.”

Rusk sat back further on the wall, taking that in. Only the most miserable of farragoes would sell off their own parts; that didn’t tally with what he’d heard of Sirin so far; but perhaps his dedication to the cause of the advocacy center had become obsession.

Rusk slipped Chierzisa a coin and left the market.

The streets of the Shoals, mostly unpaved and narrow, were still obscured by remnants of the night’s fog. Morning light gilded here and there, an illusion of grace.

Rusk knew most of the dealers in farrago parts, and where they did business. A detailed map of the whole of Acheron, including the Shoals, had been laid out in his brain by tours through the city with Ayatta; it was annotated and refined every time he walked its streets.

Navigating the maze of alleys and byways to check with various dealers, his senses prickled. Someone was shadowing him, though they managed to keep out of sight with admirable skill.  

Down another muddy alley he found the door of his fifth dealer of the morning. This one went by the name Faille and had a not-bad reputation, as such things went. Rusk paused, taking in the fact that Faille’s door was raw, recently cut wood planks; marks of violence showed on the mud and stone where the hinges were also new. The burnt-edge scent of ironwood sap and fresh cut timber stung the air.

He knocked on the door, his carved knuckles tumping on the wood. It was opened, after a shuffle of footsteps, by an old man. Seeing Rusk, his eyes widened, then narrowed. “Yeah?”

“Diligence, ’zam,” Rusk said.

Faille had a tired web of lines under his eyes; a slight tremor shook the hand on the new door, keeping it open only a small span between them.

“You had some trouble here, ’zam?” Rusk indicated the door and hinges.

“What business is that of yours?”

“I’m looking into what happened to a farrago named Sirin. Did you know him?”

Faille blew out a breath, deflating slightly. He backed a step and turned away, leaving the door open. “You may as well come in,” he said.

Inside it was dim and warm and smelled of aged human flesh, farrago oil, and metal. A makeshift kitchen, plank shelves, table, hotplate, and wood stove took up the front of the room. The shelves were covered with bins of parts; the table was both work and dining space. A mug sat by a half-assembled set of finger joints, a lightbox eye-piece hanging over the back of the chair that Faille resumed. A low, unmade bed under the one window, which looked out on the mudflats, with a back door to the convenience beyond it, completed the dealer’s home.

Faille picked up his mug, tipped it to the light. “Marshal send you?” he said.

“Yes.”

The mudflats were a cool pour of light and landscape through the window.

“Did you buy parts from Sirin, ’zam Faille?”

“Just spare bits from those his deviser had left him. Gave him a fair price, too. Not my business if he was loon enough to finance his work on his own bits.”

Rusk nodded. “He felt strongly about farrago rights, apparently. Do you know if he had any particular enemies?”

Faille’s gaze drifted back out the window; his lips compressed in a brief frown, then he said, “No one in particular, no.”

Rusk let the obvious lie float between them, wondering what might have prompted it.

“What happened to your door, ’zam Faille?”

Faille shifted and Rusk could taste the old man’s fear through his carvings.

Out on the flats the tide was just beginning to come in, a line of white foamed green-grey over brown-black muck.

“Last time Sirin come by,” the old dealer said, “he were… haunted. Said it was a thing he’d found, and its loneliness… its loneliness haunted him. Sounded like he’d gone the round the bend, yeah? He said this thing was mostly incorporeal, but sometimes, for moments, it gained form, it was beginning to get better at it — a thing neither human or farrago, but an amalgam of beasts — fabled things like bear, stag, tiger, eagle, and other s— shifting and changing.”

Rusk considered this bizarre information. He heard the old man’s heart, pulse growing faster.

“It was what he said, what Sirin saw,” Faille said, all in a rush, waving one hand at the door, “it come here, a great thing with steaming flanks and branchy things,” he waved the hand at his own head, “all fur, feathers, and claws and its eyes — dark and glowing. It splintered the door and stood there, heaving like the ocean. Then it … it spit this,” he pulled an object from his pocket, lifting half up from the chair awkwardly, “spit it out … and left, disappeared into smoke and shivering air not a step beyond the door frame. That thing’s what killed Sirin.”

Faille held an object up in his shaking fingers for Rusk to see: a small teardrop crystal, dark blue fractured with veins of light, joined to a delicate, complex structure of metal pins and tiny gears, the gears and pins bent. Rusk recognized it as a piece of the heart engine of a farrago.

• • •

Rusk left Faille’s, heading back to Russet Street and the advocacy center, hoping for the absence of Karst Noa and a look at Sirin’s apartment above the center, where his remains had been found — though he harbored little hope of finding any clear signs at the scene, since the college had already collected his remains.

Not quite all his remains, Rusk thought, picturing the bit of heart engine Faille had shown him. He didn’t know what to make of this development, or whether even to credit it; Faille’s fear had been real enough, but fear was not truth.

Even if Rusk discovered who had killed Sirin, the only punishment would be a fine, paid to the college in the absence of Sirin’s deviser.

The sense of being stalked slipped over him again.

He slowed his steps slightly. A district of mostly empty, broken down buildings rose around him. Many such structures crisscrossed the Shoals. Through this one, Shoalies had erected many little mud hodoes, crude statues of people meant to propitiate the lonely haunts that were said to infest parts of the city. These had been decorated with clamshells and phosphorous kelps from the sea; a lurid decaying glow in shades of green and brown made the hodoes seem poor company even for lonely haunts.  

Rusk crossed the narrow, pitted street and slid a glance behind him. Through a gap in what had once been a garden wall, intimation of movement and a whisper of sound.

A flash of weakness went through him like a knife, sending him to his knees. The empty, hollow-eyed buildings and sickly glow of the lumpen hodoes yawed wide around him, his senses spinning.

He drew a sharp breath, drawing from his well of prana, as he picked up a rock from the street, focused on the rustle of movement, and threw the rock. A thump and a scuffle as of something dropped, a low curse, and the weakness and pain disappeared. Rusk shot to his feet, running for the gap in the wall, but when he reached it the space on the other side was empty. The sandy mud showed signs of recent footsteps and hasty retreat.

Rusk considered pursuit, but whoever it was seemed likely to come looking for him again on their own.

• • •

When he reached the center, Rusk found it empty. A search of files and records yielded nothing germane. The center was clearly struggling, but the files were full of the efforts of its work to help farragoes, with appeals to become unattached, to be compensated for abuse, for the right to open a business, own a property.

Sirin’s room above the advocacy center was as tall-ceilinged and drafty as the center; it had beaten, but comfortable furniture over threadbare carpets. The stains of the farrago’s bodily fluids, oil and seawater, marked the place where he’d died in a wide splatter pattern. Rusk knelt and ran fingers over the stains. The scents of the various fluids remained in the fibers of the heavy, colorful carpet.

Rusk stood. The room’s esoteric clutter yielded little at first. There were files from the center below in precarious stacks, but also collections of shells, driftwood, bits of rock and architectural detritus, banister knobs and lintel carvings; feathers, bird eggs, fish bones.

Then, under a deep pile of fabric scraps — the only reason it hadn’t been confiscated by the Devisers College when they cleared out Sirin’s remains, Rusk surmised — a logos.

The logos was in its default form, a blank slate, blue-gray as a roof tile. The only other logos Rusk had ever seen, Ayatta’s, reset automatically to this default after a certain amount of elapsed time. Rusk tapped the slate twice and drew a counter-clockwise circle on its surface. The logos shuddered in one all-over tremor and became a slim, hand-bound book with covers made of heavy paper layered into board and painted dark red. Detail of a pinioned wing rising from a furred shoulder haunch was painted in metallic inks on its front. In traveler’s script, the title read An Amalgam of Creature Life.  

Rusk suddenly thought he knew why Sirin had been selling his parts; a logos would be an invaluable resource for the advocacy center. Except why then hide it under a pile of scraps in his apartment?

The book Rusk held now, the last book Sirin had called up on this logos, was old, but not ancient. It crackled when he opened it, the scent of paper, oil paint, and age — and some musky scent Rusk could not identify — rising from its pages. The table of contents covered creatures from Anteloriskuneer to Zebraccoocelot.

Rusk turned to an entry at random. The scroll of precise writing carving the surface of the pages reminded Rusk of the symbols that carved his own fingers and arms.

Liophantimarm. There was a richly inked drawing of a creature with gold-ruffed mane, lion’s head, marmoset’s forearms and little hands, and a heavy elephantine body with a long simian tail. Tusks poked out from the mane. The liophantimarm lives on the edge of jungle where it meets river-cut plains, the text began. It went on to describe range, feeding habits, mating rituals.

Rusk flipped through the pages to other entries, then to the frontispiece and the end papers, searching for some clue as to the book’s origin. An elaborate art project, written like an encyclopedia of natural study? He ran his fingertips slowly over the imprint of the writing on one page, seeking some sense of the hand that had held the pen.

Energy, spiky, inky, and prana-filled, slid up through his fingers; a shift of the air, a shiver through his whole being, followed by the certain knowledge of what he would find when he turned around. He could hear it breathing and a musky scent came heavy on the air — the dry musk from the book, revitalized.  

A smoky steam lifted off the creature’s rough fur and leathery hide as it hulked in the middle of Sirin’s room, tusks and eyes catching the light. It sat back on elephant hind legs. The carpeted floor creaked under its weight. Its long tail curled around, the end caught in clever, black-fingered hands playing with the tail’s fur tuft. The tusks were nicked and scarred and its eyes glowed black, like coals rotten with ember.

Rusk recalled Faille’s description of the thing that had been haunting Sirin: a great thing with steaming flanks and branchy things. If the logos had been left open, set to this journal…

This creature was not what Faille had described; that had sounded more like…Rusk flipped carefully through the pages. There, another fine illustration, the Reindigrecock, heavy mass of antlers on a silkily feathered tiger’s head, body a merging of giant peacock and deer.

Through his other senses, he felt an alteration in the air—and that quickly, even as he looked back up, the creature had shifted to become the image on the page to which Rusk had turned. Its antlers were mossy, feathers iridescent and glossy around the tiger muzzle. The same smoky steam rose off it in wisps and the eyes remained the same — dark and glowing, as Faille had said.  

The beast took a step toward him. Its front legs were striped tiger legs, its back legs pea fowl legs ending in spreading hooves. Rusk was mesmerized, even before the longing of the creature reached him, creating a weight of need in the air between them.

It pushed its heavy head into Rusk’s hand when he lifted it.

The fur of its face was rough and warm, lip lifting over a fang with a low, unthreatening rumble; the feathers were long and soft as breath. Rusk touched the antlers wonderingly. One great paw lifted and rested on his shoulder as they regarded one another. He could feel that the beast was working to communicate something to him, feel it through his carvings, through the creature’s gaze.

Then the beast growled in earnest.

A painful pull went through him — the same knife-cut of weakness he’d experienced in the street. He tried to move and found himself struck in place as his prana was drawn from him, sucked like marrow from a bone.  

Rusk stared at the snarling beast, shocked to have sensed its intent so wrongly. Then he heard a step behind him and understood.

It wasn’t the beast.

More steps, and Karst Noa came into view beyond the creature’s hulking shoulder. Her eyes burned with hate—a burning far more terrible than that in the beast’s eyes. She advanced on Rusk, her “reader” device sucking his prana, his life.

The beast shifted. One large paw pushed Rusk and he staggered back, falling to one knee as the beast rose up, growl giving into roar as it swung on Karst, antlers lowering for a swipe. Karst leapt back, dodged, and darted in around the beast to snatch the logos from Rusk’s frozen grip.

He watched her, unable to move. The pain of his prana being pulled from him was excruciating. The etheric seal cracked, sucked dry, on his left thumb; the carved and jointed set of ivory digits fell from his hand and lay on the carpet, parts. One of his eyes was losing focus, light and vision going dark.

Having leapt back again, Karst shut the journal book of beasts. “Revert,” she said. The book shivered once and became the logos slate.

Even as it shimmered into mist-smoke, the antlered head swung around again and the ember-coals of the creature’s eyes stared into Rusk’s, burning in the dim air of Sirin’s room seconds after the rest of the beast faded. A shot of vital anima reached Rusk, a stealth lightning strike, cutting the pain in a sweet, harsh jolt. Riding its infusion, Rusk sprang and rolled into Karst’s legs. As she fell over him, reader in one hand, logos in the other, Rusk grabbed the logos and continued rolling.

“Recall,” he said to it. The journal reformed in his hands. The beast shimmered back into being, charging Karst as she regained her feet. A swipe of one great paw sent the not-just-a-reader from her hand. The device hit the wall and fell to the carpet in two pieces.

Rusk sagged as the harsh internal pull cut off.

Karst stood, gripping her bloody hand. The beast paced back and forth before her, snarling.

“You killed Sirin,” Rusk said.

“No. I took him down to parts.”

Rusk climbed to his feet and brushed himself off. “Murdered,” he said.

“I can’t be charged with murder; there’s nothing you can do to me.”

Rusk regarded her, and the beast pacing before her. “I’m not sure I’ll be required to.”

Her gaze went to the steaming antlers, bared fangs, back to Rusk. “Revert the logos.” It was an order, but the veneer of imperious authority had gone thin over anger and fear.

“Why did you do it?”

Her lips thinned and her hands fisted on the broken device, then she threw one hand out awkwardly, gesturing at the beast, at Rusk. “Monsters, calling forth monsters. Reason enough. I tracked the energy signature of this … thing … and the farrago wouldn’t give it up. It shouldn’t exist.” Her gaze was unfocused now, as she watched inner demons. “You shouldn’t exist.”

The beast gave an agitated, stuttered peacock shout, with a growl under it, and Karst said again, “Revert the logos.”

“No.” Rusk took a step; the beast gave ground a step and the black glowing eyes met his. For a moment, Rusk forgot Karst’s presence. It was a wide moment; he floated in it, a sense of echoing depth. He swayed, dizzy, and then grounded again.

He considered Karst and the broken device in her hands. Tucking the logos under one arm he held out a hand, indicating the device.

“I’ll take that.”

Her hands were white knuckled. “Under what authority?”

“Marshal Luin’s. I’ll pass the device, along with my evidence, to her,” Rusk said.

Karst shook her head.

The beast stepped closer to her, brushed up against her, just lightly.

Rusk smiled, not a pleasant smile. “You’ve met my new friend?”

• • •

He made sure Sirin’s center got the logos; as a reference library it would be invaluable to their work. First, however, he removed access to An Amalgam of Creature Life from it.

He was in the garden again when Marshal Luin came to hear his report. He told her over steamed chocolate; a cold fog had rolled up from the Shoals to take the whole city shortly after he left Sirin’s building with the reverted logos slate, the pieces of Karst Noa’s device, and the bone digits of his thumb tucked inside his loden coat.

Luin took the pieces of Karst Noa’s device, frowning over them and his account. She left still frowning, and without offering any thoughts on whether Karst faced anything more than a fine.

Rusk, however, had spread the word about Karst Noa, telling Chierzisa and others. He didn’t count her future days very bright.

The fog had not lifted by the following morning, but Rusk was too restless to be inside the house.

Mist lay through the little garden orchard and beaded on the heliotrope flowers, an ache of violet in the gray. Small, cyan-blue birds winged through the garden, worrying at each other, their calls echoing between the garden’s deep stone walls. One lit on Rusk’s carved bone fingers to take the seed he offered it. His reattached thumb curled to his palm, not entirely reintegrated to his system.

The bird fluttered away. Rusk activated the logos on the table before him. He called up An Amalgam of Creature Life, and opened it.

 

 


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Jessica Reisman stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her first novel, The Z Radiant, published by Five-Star Speculative Fiction, is “thinking readers sci-fi.” She was a Michener Fellow in Fiction in graduate school. See www.storyrain.com for more.

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