From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we are pleased to bring you two exciting exploits from across time and space in our science fiction issue! Zartman and Conway are here to blow you away with tales of bravery, business, and cockroaches.
In news we have contracted a graphic designer for a banner and logo! We are happy to say that we will be retiring the big green coffee drinking lark Sam and be issuing in a double lark design soon. Come back next week to see a preview!
Also if you did not hear our March edition of LarksMonthly is online now! Check it out on Smashwords.
Thank you and enjoy reading,
Daniel J. Pool
The Bender Beamer
by J. C. Conway
The world ends twice a day; three times on Sunday.
Junior Bender wanted to believe it. It was the closest thing to advice his father had ever provided. But all it meant was nothing is carved in stone—fresh starts happen every day.
He could use a new start now.
Junior sat on his hands to avoid fidgeting behind his broad mahogany desk. His CEO nameplate evidenced his powerful position in the world's fastest rising business. But he did not call the shots. Junior didn't even earn his position, he inherited it.
He cleared his throat. "The government has offered to buy."
Junior's CFO, and his father's former right-hand man, Henry Orwill, belted a cynical chuckle. "Too bad for them."
Junior's gut tightened. Junior longed to deal man-to-man with Orwill, but he still felt like a child to "Uncle Hank."
"They're offering a lot," said Junior, seeking a deeper discussion.
"If we sell now, it wouldn't be to our advantage."
Junior pressed. "They won't give up. We're a monopoly. We're crushing the world's transportation industry. If we don't sell, I'm afraid they'll just take it."
"Listen," said Orwill, standing, "if we sell now, we'll be out of the picture for good. We don't want that."
"Are you going to sign those papers?" he asked as he left, pointing to today's stack.
Junior nodded, sighing.
Quiet fell. What was wrong with the government offer? What better result did Orwill have in mind?
Junior activated his Room Moderator.
"Transparent," he said.
The opaque walls turned clear. The floor of the Central Beaming Hub stretched out below him. Thousands of passengers arrived in flashes from transmission booths around the world. They scurried to departure terminals and disappeared in another flash, transported by Bender's trade-secret beaming technology. A kilometer away he could see the new project—large cargo transmitters—under construction. Nearer, the technical brains of the operation, Benjamin Knoffe, managed a crew of technicians checking coils or wires or something beyond Junior's understanding. The wiry man was obsessed with minutia. Junior couldn't recall two consecutive sentences from Knoffe's lips that Junior ever followed.
But that didn't matter. He had to connect with Orwill.
Junior touched his desk. "Audio message."
The room beeped.
"To Henry Orwill. Suppose we release the designs confidentially, for security use only. They promised secrecy and offered billions for that alone—and we could keep our monopoly."
Junior leaned back. Had that sounded professional enough?
He signed papers as he waited. Finally, Orwill responded.
"Their objective is to destroy your father's company. It doesn't matter what they promise. If we release our designs, it will be weeks at best—not months or years—before we lose all control. No sir. Not yet. Sit tight. We'll give it to them, but not until the right time."
Junior spun in his chair. Uncle Hank was still not listening.
He prepared a response. "Why worry about that? It's more money than we could ever want. And they'll give us a share of future profits."
Orwill answered quickly. "No. Why don't you take some time off? Go sailing. Enjoy yourself."
Junior wondered what his father would do; probably something bold and risky. Junior's father was shrewd. No one took him for granted.
Junior arrived at Bender Transcontinental Beaming just after noon the next day. He felt good. He passed his own office and proceeded to Orwill's, entering unannounced, with a bounce in his step.
"Hello, Junior," said Orwill, terminating a video conference. "What do you need?"
"It's about the offer."
Orwill shifted in his leather chair. "I was hoping you'd thought better of that by now. It's not the right time."
Junior waved the remark off. "I've just signed—it's a done deal."
Junior squared his shoulders. "I decided it is time. As of Friday, this company is government property. But your position is secure. I insisted."
Orwill's face whitened. Through clenched teeth he said, "Okay ... I'll have to deal with a few things."
Junior nodded, pausing, and then asked, "Hank, wasn't there another reason you didn't want to sell?"
"Since it doesn't matter now ...?
"Uh ... not now, Junior ... I've got to ... um …"
"Tomorrow," said Orwill, absently.
Junior pushed for a firm commitment. "Nine o'clock?"
"Yeah, nine," echoed Orwill quietly. "Now if you'll excuse me—"
The next morning, Junior found Knoffe pacing in front of his door.
Knoffe looked at him nervously, "Orwill's gone."
"What do you mean?"
"Split—skipped out—we've been had!"
Junior studied the scientist. He seemed agitated beyond his usual nervousness. His eyes appeared wide with genuine panic. "Why?"
Knoffe grabbed his arm, and glanced around. "Not here. Inside your office ..."
Knoffe closed the door cautiously behind them. "It's about the matter transmitter."
Junior leaned against his desk and folded his arms. Maybe now, if Knoffe could speak in layman's terms, he could learn something about Orwill's concerns. Perhaps they'd done something illicit. He wondered if Knoffe and Orwill had stolen the design, or—heaven forbid—did they kill someone? He imagined Knoffe and Orwill tossing a body into a river, pocketing a notebook of technical drawings.
And if they did, what about his father?
Junior shivered. He prompted the pacing Knoffe was a gesture.
"It's not really a matter transmitter," blurted Knoffe.
Junior tilted his head. What an odd combination of words. He squinted and spoke slowly. "Then what is it?"
Knoffe wrung his hands. His knuckles whitened. "When I worked at the University," he paced again, "Your father told me the universe is unstable—that matter and energy periodically builds to a critical mass, annihilate, and then reform."
Junior's mind spun. "Twice a day," he muttered.
"Whatever," said Knoffe, waving. "But I considered it. Annihilation and reformation ... the basic pattern at the quantum level ..."
Junior's neck tingled.
"—cells, impulses, processes, even thought patterns ... perfect replication." Knoffe threw his hands down. "We put the core technology here at the Hub so they couldn't reverse engineer the process. But that's all they are—annihilators and replicators. That's our trade secret."
Junior stood. "But that's—"
The men stared at each other. Knoffe's Adam's apple bobbed. Junior heard the roar of his own pulse.
"—murder," finished the scientist, "on a mass scale."
"But how could you do such a thing?"
Then Junior gasped. "I went through one of those things!" He patted himself—head, arms, chest, hips—he felt like himself, not a copy.
Knoffe shrugged. "It was Orwill's idea. But it doesn't matter now ... and it doesn't matter if you're an original. Whoever and whatever you are, we're both in trouble."
"The law!" He pointed with a sharp gesture. "It's your beamer. It's your company. You hired me, and you signed all of the papers—not Orwill."
Junior plopped back against the hard edge of his desk. Knoffe was right. Orwill signed nothing. Junior was the CEO responsible for everything.
Silence fell. Knoffe covered his face with his hands. Junior's knees felt weak.
"My father went along with this?" he finally asked.
Knoffe peeked at Junior through glistening eyes. "He said it's no different than the natural course ... annihilation happens anyway." Knoffe shook his head. "Something like that."
Junior blinked. "Was he right?"
Knoffe shrugged. "Quantum instability. The underlying premise panned out well enough to make the machines work. That's all that mattered."
Knoffe fell into a chair and whimpered, curling into a fetal position.
Junior winced. Knoffe was beyond terror. And why not? He'd cooperated with—hell, he'd performed—the largest mass homicide in history.
Except that nobody knew it.
Junior's eyes widened. His play had worked. He did not learn what he expected; but he learned what he needed. A rush of bright enthusiasm welled.
"Relax," said Junior.
Knoffe shook his head.
"Nobody has to find out!" said Junior.
"Of course they will. You sold out. They'll get designs, schematics, memos ... and even if we destroy all that, they'll have the devices. They'll take one apart."
Junior shook his head. "No, they won't!" He grabbed Knoffe's shoulders. "I was just trying to be clever, like my dad and like Orwill."
"I didn't sell!"
"I lied!" he laughed. "I wanted Orwill to tell me why he didn't want me to sell, so I told him I already did!"
"And now he's gone."
Junior drew a breath. It was a mistake to have trusted Orwill. "The bastard was setting us up all along. He knew it wouldn't last. When the time came, he would cut out. My lie made him leave early. "
Junior felt lighter than air. He told Knoffe to continue business as usual. "It's as if nothing happened." He promised to work out the details for the both of them.
Knoffe agreed, finally settling back to his normal level of fidgety nervousness, and returned to his duties.
Junior folded his arms behind his head and sank comfortably into his deep executive chair. He scanned the office through new eyes and laughed.
Orwill had taken advantage of him—or had tried. No one would do that again.
Junior activated his executive assistant. "Revoke Henry Orwill's access to all systems and assets. I want a meeting with the accounting heads in one hour, and I want Orwill's spending patterns for the past ten years transmitted to Security."
He wondered whether Orwill had taken a booth for his getaway. Probably. One would have to believe in souls to think it actually killed.
Now what about the government? It was still a problem. He wondered how much regulators made. Would it be as simple as properly-placed rewards? He checked his schedule. "New items," he said, and set up a series of important meetings at his office, then thought better of it. "On second thought, make those meetings on the yacht, and set up catering and entertainment as follows ..."
With that in the works, he lifted his name plate from the desk—a piece of clutter that no CEO needs—and dropped it in the wastebasket. Then he made a note to have all company publications and directories change his name to a dignified "J. E. Bender."
Yes, that should do.
J. E. Bender settled into his office and felt the freedom of real power rush through him. He didn't know if his father was right about the world ending, and he didn't care. But it had certainly started anew. And this time, J. E. Bender would call the shots.
About the Author;
John Conway is a parent, a teacher, and a complex-litigation attorney. He writes science fiction, fantasy, young adult and romance stories. He has been published by Residential Aliens, Battlespace Anthology, Static Movement, and Bewildering Stories. He is a Genre Fiction winner with two science fiction stories in the 2011 Writers Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition, and is the 2012 grand prize winner of the Yosemite Romance Writers Smooch contest.
His web site address is www.jcconway.com
by Joel Zartman
Y luego cuando la muerte vino a recordarle que él no había sido sino un húesped más en su palacio, la impenetrable estancia quedó clausurada y muda para siempre.
The clouds were piled in the west: resplendent, white, intolerable with the glory of the sun. The crouching mountains waited for the lengthening shadow, and the sprawled city also waited and twinkled with groping lights. He looked out over it: his achievement.
The Bizmarq smelled the wind; it was heavy with rain. He stood on the spiral of the ascending, coiled pinnacle of his palace in Andridulla, his metropolis. "A culture to rival the cultures of earth," he said aloud. He reached for a roasted cockroach and delicately nibbled at a leg.
Later, he looked over the city gleaming in the rain. He saw the transporters flashing through the broad avenues, the levcars raising red lights against the clouds, casting long beams through the diamond curtain of the rain. The city of gold and marble and endless, endless catacombs bathed in the rain and waited.
They were eating delicacies in all the restaurants: tender plants, eggs, delicate meats, subtle herbs, wines, cheese, and ripe, gigantic insects—the prize of which were the coppery-golden, king cockroaches of Andridulla. The Bizmarq liked to think on this: it was his achievement as well.
He turned and looked upon the pallid acolyte, one of the virgins from the temple delegated to the service of the Bizmarq in the palace. He raised an eyebrow.
"A messenger has arrived."
"Yes, your eminence."
He listened to the rain rilling along the smooth spiral of his palace, looking at the ugly girl without really seeing her.
* * *
He was clothed in black, like one of the fanatics from the desert. The Bizmarq spied on him before entering the chamber—as was his custom. Rough clothes, like sacking; probably a temper-suit underneath, as they were not averse to technology; and no weapons other than a highly trained mind and a very fit body. Vital statistics showed a perfectly calm human.
The Bizmarq had people working on eradicating the sect of the prophets—admittedly hard to eradicate. He had toyed, from time to time, with the idea of suborning them, infiltrating; but any time he made it a policy, he ended up losing some of his best operatives.
It was enraging actually, and with a calculating mind he stifled the impulses that rose in his vicious heart. He focused on the numbers of the statistics and then looked again at the figure shown on the screen.
It crossed the Bizmarq's mind that this one might be a former operative: the man had a hard face . . . perhaps also a tattoo on the inside of his arm, the snake of the service, as it was known. Some liked to keep the tattoo as a point of pride, and some kept it adding a strikethrough.
Layers and layers—he thought, and the thought caused a small smile to play upon his features. If he had beaten the cockroaches, he would beat these fanatics too . . . make them another of his bases of power. He was the greatest result of the genetic manipulations, the fullest of the reptilians. He believed his instinct was greater than that of any purebred.
The man nodded when the Bizmarq appeared, but offered no obeisance, no verbal acknowledgment of the power and splendor of the supreme ruler of New Byzantium, all its dependencies and wide-scattered tributary planets (Carthage, Sund, New Ethiopia and especially Ophir, the hostile planet from which slaves mined the priceless, green-tinged gold).
"Gold, O Bizmarq, is always upon thy mind," the dark man said.
The Bizmarq regarded him in silence for a while. Outside the rain fell, and the splashing of the fountains in the palace mingled together: a clean sound, the sound of washing.
"Gold," the Bizmarq hissed at last, "is often upon my mind—the color of God, the sun by whose rays we live. Often, but not always. Have you come to reveal to me my thoughts?"
"The Bizmarq knoweth his mind well enough, and though his counsels are dark, yet these he has no need of seers to see or tell him thereof," the dark man said.
They are always shrewd ones—thought the Bizmarq—cagey and much like snakes; but too human, lacking in instinct. The Bizmarq did not fear the purebred humans, but he did not trust them. All his trusted servants, though these were few, were reptilian, hatched from eggs, servants of the sun and of the Bizmarq.
"Well, messenger," the Bizmarq said. "What is your message?"
"Know, O Bizmarq, that thou shalt crawl upon thy belly and eat dust."
A dangerous light sprang up in the Bizmarq's eyes, but he remained still and his expression did not alter.
"I have looked upon the stars, I have wandered in the desert, I have come with the rain which will cease at dawn, and afterward leave thy city to long drought."
The Bizmarq laughed, low and mirthless. "This I know already. Do you think, yokel, this city depends upon the weather for any of its needs?"
"I know, O Bizmarq, the foundation whereon Andridulla is founded, and how vast are the ways the water runs in from the sea, and how thou filterist it, and thou distillest it, and hast vast reserves thou thinkest inexhaustible digged deep inside the mountains that surround thy city. I know also how deep lieth the power station whereof the city is charged, and never was there greater, or greater reserve of potency. Thou hast water for all thy tinkling fountains and the broad, clear rivers that wind through the ample streets under the luxuriant trees that shade thy city of marble and gold. Thou hast power for all thy works, for the myriad lights in panels, in diodes, in flash-tubes, for the powering of all thy communications, connections and cunning devices. Thou has stores whereof thy people may be nourished in tensa-barns, granaries, dank caverns for the mushroom and the breeding of thy many maggots and all thy loathsome bugs. Thou hast founded thy city in this impregnable valley and ordered and fortified it. Nor are thy people slothful, but busy pursuing earnestly for thee and thy glory greater wealth, splendor and power."
The usual—thought the Bizmarq. "Perhaps," he said to the prophet, "you will taste some of this cockroach? No doubt the people of the desert are hungry from time to time."
The prophet stared at the king cockroach stuffed with rice and surrounded by baked fruit. The Bizmarq had waved a hand and it had come sliding out of the wall, steaming.
"The delicacy of the worlds," the Bizmarq hissed.
"I know where thy cockroaches swarm one over the other: gigantic, fantastic, bathed in an amber light and dust of gold that ariseth after their scampering in little puffs."
This the Bizmarq did not expect: the caves in which the cockroaches were bred were secret. Few had seen the sights this prophet now described. The cold brain worked furiously, his instinct ducked and weaved like an adder in the jungles of his heart. He made a gesture and an onyx chair emerged out of the black wall. Gathering his robes and sash, the tanned Bizmarq sat down on the chair, poised, leaning forward a little, regarding the messenger.
"What curious tale is this?"
"No tale. I have dreamed it in the night, in the desert when all the winds were still and there was no moon. It is the desert truth of the juniper and of the sage. Thou hast deep caverns digged wherein thou breedest these cockroaches. Great wealth—-the splendor of Andridulla—-depends on these caverns and their secret. Well have the men of old said there is no accounting for taste."
"And for this I must crawl and eat dust?"
"Not for this," said the prophet, holding up a hand. "Not for this."
There was a long pause. Not often did the Bizmarq hang upon another's words, but now he hung, and knew it, and determined he would give the order for the prophet's guts to be removed from his living body with a hook . . . eventually.
"Well, what then?" he snapped.
"For that thought which hath crossed thy secret heart, O Bizmarq," the prophet said quietly. And then the Bizmarq in his robes and splendor trembled on his onyx seat, and he grew pale under his smooth, tanned skin.
The prophet departed the way he had come, and in the morning, when the rain had stopped, the Bizmarq's servants found their master still sitting in the chair, lost in one of his serpent reveries, his eyes covered over by a milky film.
* * *
"Did you insult him? Tell him he was a polygamist breeding like a cockroach in the cracks of the walls of the universe?"
Hanx looked up from his sandwich at Yome. "What? No! Do you really think the reptilians of Andridulla care what people think of their polygamy?"
"What did you do? They're saying the Bizmarq was in some kind of catatonic trance for like two weeks. He must have been really pissed."
"So what did you tell him?" Yome was sitting forward, watching Hanx eat his sandwich from a distance that Hanx found less than companionable.
"I told him," he said, "that his heart was rotten."
Yome sat back and Hanx began to eat his sandwich again.
"What do you mean, ‘his heart was rotten?’ What would that have done?"
"Well, I didn't say it in so may words. Yome, you ought to read more classic literature."
Yome snorted and stared at Hanx, sitting back with his arms crossed. Hanx finished the sandwich and wiped his mouth on the cloth-card and then dropped the card in the slot. The slot whirred and the check appeared.
"You don't get it, huh?"
"No I don't."
"What I said was that he would be punished for 'that thought which crossed thy secret heart'."
"Huh? What thought?"
"Man, how would I know what thought?"
"I have no idea what the guy thinks about—other than roaches and gold."
Yome leaned forward again and said, "Let me get this straight: you went into the palace at Andridulla, called for the supreme ruler and despot of about thirty planets, you talked some mumbo jumbo about the secrets crossing his heart and then you walked out again?"
"That is correct."
"Am I supposed to get it?"
Hanx shrugged. He got up to pay the bill, and Yome scrambled after him.
* * *
The restaurant was down to the last cockroaches. Tuken looked at the row of silver packages in the humidor. Ten banquets if they were lucky. Somehow he knew he wouldn't be lucky. What else to serve? Megaprawn? Maybe it was time for people on Andridulla to start eating chicken again . . . ech!
The lights were coming on in the city—the first, faint coppery ones. Under the orange skies the city began to glow, some of the buildings pulsing slightly. From the top of the King Cobra Hotel, Tuken watched. The rotating dining room was revolving slowly so that potential customers could check the fantastic view on screens in their rooms or in the lobby nine hundred stories below.
Tuken wondered. The reputation, the power and splendor of Andridulla—all of which had been built by the Bizmarq himself—seemed threatened. The Bizmarq in his wisdom had outlawed the cultivation of roaches, had stopped the supply controlled by the palace, had cast adrift not only the fortunes of high-end restaurants such as this one Tuken managed, but perhaps that of the whole capital and all the civilization of New Byzantium.
The temple was silent too.
When he was at the point of achieving a civilization to rival the ancient civilization of earth, the Bizmarq had gone into a two-week trance and now appeared bent on destroying all his careful work.
Life in New Byzantium, with all of its anxieties, assimilated this one, went on working, pondering and worried.
Tuken wondered if he could import roaches. There were enough of them on the spacers that came and orbited in station, but he knew these would be inferior: small, underdeveloped, banned and quarantined—not the copper-golden, king cockroaches of Andridulla. Only on Andridulla: because the fear of genetic tinkering lingered like a superstition in the confederacies, federations, and other political entities that warred and traded throughout the Milky Way.
He did not know if it was only rumor, but he had heard they ate chicken on earth. He supposed they plucked them before they ate them, but to eat a creature with feathers seemed very wrong. He heard heels clicking on the parquet and turned to greet the first guests of the evening: some reptilian dignitaries from a coastal province.
* * *
"So now we're going back to New Byzantium?"
"That's right," Hanx said. The craft was spinning, preparing to move eckward and close the distance between the nearly derelict CAC station and New Byzantium.
"Find out what the Bizmarq is up to."
Yome checked the panel and flipped a switch; the ship wrenched and eckt from the region of the CAC and into the perimeters of the New Byzantium.
"Lots of Mackerels over toward Norma," Yome observed, checking the console.
"They like the bright parts, don't they?"
Yome grunted and made sure the ship was on trajectory for the capital planet.
"What do we tell customs?"
"Roaches for where? And I thought they were out. Man, you got money for roaches?"
"No, yes, and for . . . say, Norma," Hanx said, answering the questions in reverse order.
Yome was used to these laconic responses: "Roaches for Norma; and you ain't got money but they don't have any to sell? I guess they'll still let us in to resupply the ship. Ok. Explain?"
Hanx yawned and stretched, "Find out what the Bizmarq is up to, like I said."
"What if they don't let us through?"
"Yeah." By which Hanx meant he wasn't sure yet.
Yome was silent for a while, then he asked, "What's your theory on the Bizmarq?"
"I think he wants to be a roach."
Yome chuckled softly, patting his thighs and rolling his head. "Man, I don't know how you come up with this stuff. That's crazy—-and you're serious!"
"It would explain why all the production is shut down. Did you know the temple is also closed?"
"How did you find that out?"
"Man, those crazy-serious desert dudes . . . I don’t know why you gotta get mixed up with them. They’re your contact for this one too, aren’t they?"
Hanx frowned and looked over at Yome. "They’re a professional outfit, as good as the old man."
"Huh. The old man’s dead. The mackerels got him."
Hanx made no reply.
* * *
The Bizmarq waited behind the glass. He had not sunned himself for weeks and in the blue light looked pale, cadaverous. He was watching his people at work. The crystal pulsed with blue light and the amber dust swirled, tinged with blue around the crystal. In the blue-amber twilight he could see the giant cockroaches crawling on the floor, slowly, in their last throes as a result of the toxins. Hooded and anonymous, his people went with faint white lights that shone into the dust, moving among the gleaming cockroaches in the sacred atmosphere of the crystal. The Bizmarq prayed and trembled.
* * *
Tuken stared up at the sun, and then looked at his water level: it was like when he ran out of roaches, like watching them go a little too fast on that last night. That life was over. He had other concerns now, such as hoping his water would last until he found the manhole and deliverance.
A manhole in the desert! For some reason it struck him as a line of poetry, though his situation was anything but poetic. Before him the desert shimmered, the sun beat down without mercy, and he trudged along in a temper-suit. It was pretty good—the suit—but he had never used one before, and it was the sort of thing one had to become accustomed to. An experienced wearer would be able to jog along in the desert for hours at an even temperature. But Tuken struggled, and the temper suit did too.
This could be my death.
He put the thought out of his mind and focused on the guidance display: five miles to go. Then he noticed the guidance was flickering at the edges. Just what I need—he thought—had it been flickering that way before?
As he wondered, the display went out. Then it came back on right away, but now it was flickering more, and then it started showing gibberish. He realized it wasn’t the suit’s system, it was the whole planetary system going offline. To Tuken's horror, the guidance gave out completely and he was left staring through his visor at the endless desert.
Everything's failing—he thought. He sat down on the scorching sand. Now what?
He hadn't been paying attention to the guidance system other than to see he had half an hour left to go, more or less. He was going in a straight line, and could guide himself by the sun, but not for long: his relative trajectory was not directly aligned with the movement of the sun.
Better wait to see if the system came online again. He coughed, expelling more vital water through his mask and into the merciless, predatory atmosphere. He drank down more of the diminishing fluid and stifled the next cough. For a long while he sat there waiting, resting, allowing the suit to function more efficiently. He noticed it was humming oddly.
He noticed something else: a few feet away, the sand moved. It began to rise, and to pour off of a hump in the desert . . . something was moving under the sand, lifting it. Abruptly, the sand began to blow away from the mound, and Tuken leapt to his feet. A hole had opened and was blowing the sand away from the mouth. It continued for a few minutes and then stopped.
Silence—-though Tuken did not notice the silence included the silence of his suit. It had failed too.
A lid was raised from the desert floor and a head peered out at Tuken.
"Tuken Jupiter?" the head asked—some guy with a beard, squinting into the sunlight.
"Are you Tuken Jupiter?"
"Yes . . . how—"
"Good. We've been tracking you. The system has failed. We had your location, so we burrowed out to get you. Come inside before you die." And the head vanished into the hole.
Tuken scrambled into the darkness of the brotherhood.
* * *
Hanx looked across the desk at the new guy. He was short, stocky, obviously unaccustomed to a temper suit—which did not appear to be turned on—and did not look promising.
"Why don’t you take that helmet off?" Hanx asked.
"I can’t. I don’t know how to turn the suit off."
"The suit is off already."
"What!" He fumbled at his neck and eventually removed the helmet. He breathed the dry air of the chamber. He felt foolish.
"What did you do?" Hanx asked.
"I got lost, what do you mean?"
"No, what did you do in life, before here?"
"You mean my work?"
"I was the manager of a restaurant, the one on the top of the King Cobra Hotel—know it?"
"I've eaten there."
"You have?" Tuken was amazed.
"I've eaten there, yeah."
"Costs a fortune to eat there."
"I know. But I didn't have to pay. Let's get back to business: we're here to interview you. So if you ran the restaurant you must know something about roaches, right?"
"Correct. That's the next step, you move up the chain and into the distribution, which is closely guarded."
"And also, I understand," Hanx said, sitting back in his chair, "the limit of purebred involvement."
"Not true: we can be involved as long as we are in the upper reaches, the regions right around the temple. I don’t know if you know this, but the temple prostitutes and virgins all are purebred."
"I didn’t know that."
"Yes, anyway, we can get into the distribution but not too far. You’re right from there on down: only reptilians can deal with the catacombs where the roaches are bred. It’s closely tied with their religion. I actually think it is more of the real thing than the business with the virgins and the prostitutes."
"That’s a pretty shrewd guess," Hanx said. He sat in silence, thinking for a while. "Some kind of mystical genetic manipulation," he said at last. He looked away from Tuken, thinking. "That's where we need to go; it’s the Brotherhood's next project. Maybe it can be your rite."
"Everybody has to make a contribution to the cause, a sort of ordeal that shows the person's loyalty to the Brotherhood—make sense?"
"It does." The thought of going into the roach catacombs fascinated and horrified Tuken. He did not want to be caught down there by reptilians, but he was very curious about the place where the roaches were bred, and the processes, and also the strange religions accretions. There were all kinds of wild tales that circulated . . .
"Anyway," Hanx said, "I'm not in charge here. I'm just a friend. You'll have to talk to Aiden, the director. He's running a bit late, so he sent me in to feel you out. The good news is that I think you feel ok; the bad news is that mine is just an opinion. But Aiden should be here any minute."
* * *
"How are things up there?"
"Busy. Looks like everybody purebred is leaving Andridulla. Authorities can't keep up, they're just letting people ship out. Kind of hazardous, seems to me, but nobody's crashed—yet."
"Interesting. Any idea why?"
"Why? Because the place is falling apart, the com-networks failing, the water supply running out, the reptilians all locked up in the temple or somewhere: anarchy and apocalypse, that’s why."
"Yeah! You can almost see it from orbit, don't need a whole lot of mag to notice. Man, whatever you did to the Bizmarq, and I still don't understand it, was bad. The dude is letting everything come apart."
"What are they saying about that?"
"It's something to do with their religion, man, the crystals. But I can't get anything coherent from people."
"Interesting. It's all quiet here in the desert. We know the comnets are failing, but we don't have any first-hand reports. I should probably get Aiden to send in some scouts. Maybe go in myself."
"Man, you have to be careful in Andridulla nowadays. It's wild. I think as word gets out there'll be ships coming in to loot the place on top of everything."
"If it continues."
"What would stop it, Hanx?"
"If the Bizmarq finished his roach project."
There was a pause on the communication link while Yome absorbed what Hanx had said. Then Yome said, "You're serious about the roach thing, aren't you?"
"Yep. Gotta go, Yome. Out."
* * *
The car rolled up to the city limits.
"The comnets are coming online again," one of the Brethren said.
"He's back," Hanx said.
"Who's back?" Aiden asked.
"Pretty sure. Lets try to go in."
The car rolled through the checkpoint and into the city. Nothing happened. Andridulla was deserted and dust blew along the streets. They passed abandoned transporters, crashed lev-cars, broken windows and twisted rails.
"Looks like they had a war," Aiden observed.
"It was like that when I left," Tuken said. "People leaving, looting, hiding away."
"The city power is coming back on," the Brother at the monitor said.
"Looks like you're right," Aiden remarked to Hanx.
"Of course," Hanx said. "Now we should hurry."
"To the temple."
* * *
Altogether elsewhere—it seemed to Hanx. They were standing in the great courtyard of the temple, and before them rose the structure of crystal and winding, interlaced bamboo. It throbbed with blue lights and cast a pall, an artificial twilight so that the structure's lights could mark and possess the atmosphere before it. Blue lights, smaller amber ones crawled among the blue, and a strong, orange one shone from the mouth of the temple high above.
"This is not the same place," Aiden said.
"It doesn't feel the same, does it?" Hanx said. "Something crucial has changed. I think perhaps the Bizmarq has succeeded."
The drum began to throb from the temple, and a weird, sinuous music rose up around them, from everywhere, but leaping around, hard to locate, undulating.
"Immortality!" a voice cried.
"Immortality," came the answer from a crowd.
"Hail the immortal! The Bizmarq of Andridulla!" the voice cried again. A choir answered it with the same cry.
"Hail the immortal," the crowd shouted in turn. And the drum stopped, and there was silence.
In the mouth above, the Bizmark appeared, and the amber light concentrated on him while blue lights played along the outlines of the vast temple.
"My people," the Bizmarq cried in a gigantic voice, "I am immortal!"
It was precisely at that moment that a ray of sun shone through falling on the Bizmarq. His amplified scream seemed to paralyze time and abruptly to shift all the world into a howling nightmare. Then the sound died away.
* * *
The waves lash the pier. Tuken looks out over the troubled waters, he picks up his tea and goes to stand at the edge of the veranda. The rainwater pours off the thatched roof, and he remembers the rain on Andridulla an age ago. Turning, he goes to the other side and walks landward. In a field behind the house his space ship is rusting; the grass has grown over the low prow. It looks like a dead bug, like the roach king—-as they called the old Bizmarq.
The smell of his tea reminds him also of that day: the peculiar dusty fragrance of the tunnels and dry waterways around the temple in Adridulla. He had smelled it when they pursued the Bizmark into the nearest hole.
That had been at the end of the spectacle: when the Bizmark had revealed himself in the new transformation. Tuken remembers the amber light, the flickering blue, the man standing above, appearing to wear a cloak and lifting four arms into the air. Then the Bizmarq had spread what Tuken had taken for a cloak, and shown his golden-copper wings—-or the shell protecting his delicate, developing wings.
They had chased the fleeing Bizmark in the tunnels with the light of Aiden’s flash: confusing, dark, and with that dusty fragrance Tuken remembers every time he smells his tea. The dust of tea leaves and roses—-he remembers more exactly. And it seemed not only exotic at the time, but also strangely apt.
And then had come the mirror—-another of the day’s optical illusions: first the cloak and now the mirror. Actually a glass partition in the tunnels and chambers under the temple, it had worked like a mirror when in that darkness the light of Aiden’s flash had penetrated, revealing the Bizmark to himself: crouching on a wall, a pallid face, an insect body. His last words had been whispered in the sibilant accents of a reptilian, with difficulty because of the emerging mandibles, but with unambiguous horror.
The rain stops, and Tuken’s tea is finished. He looks up at the skies as he always does, remembering that day when as the Bizmarq stood at the height of his glory and had been smitten—-as Hanx liked to put it. As if on queue, as he had lifted up his golden-copper wings, the sun had broken with a ray through the temple’s pall. Tuken remembers the unforgettable scream, the Bizmarq falling, clutching the lip with two of his four arms, swinging, and finally scurrying down the side of the temple like a bug.
Tuken remembers Hanx’s explanation as they stood before that glass partition after the Bizmarq’s last words and his vanishing into the endless catacombs forever.
"Roaches don’t like daylight."
"But he’s still running," Aiden had pointed out.
"I think it’s because he’s losing everything but the instinct of an insect,” Hanx had explained. "He was very successful. The thing is, if he was entirely successful he’s also an immortal insect."
Tuken shudders and turns to enter the house again. That last statement of Hanx’s had cut deep into the society of New Byzantium; it had been picked up by some reporter and published. Now the reptilians were in charge again, they had a ruler called a Bizmarq, but they had sealed off the catacombs below, cleansed the temple of the bogus trappings of whore and virgin, and were said to be fond of reindeer meat, of which they cultivated galloping herds.
Pausing on the threshold, Tuken remembers the old Bizmarq, thinks of him still haunting the catacombs of Andridulla, and as he enters his house he shakes his head and whispers the once powerful ruler’s last realization: "I am loathsome!"
He heads toward the kitchen: time to roast a chicken for supper; tonight he will play chef again; he is expecting guests.
About the Author;
Zoel Zartman lives and works in Bogotá, Colombia, a place which sometimes seems to have been dreamed up by Philip K. Dick. He has published fiction and poetry in Aoife's Kiss and the Mythic Circle.
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