The soul to feel the flesh
The flesh to feel the chain
In the bleakest oubliette of an underfunded psychiatric facility, under a barred window whose dirge of stop-and-go traffic hammered the pointlessness of escape, a scarecrow madwoman lay apathetic in her constraints.
The door opened. In walked a small young man with the same black hair and pale skin as the patient, but much cleaner. Closing the door softly, he sidled up to her and said, "I am your cousin Shadrach. Your true name is Pareidolia Meerschaum, Scrollkin, Princess. I have come to rescue you."
"Fuck off, creep," she moaned.
He leaned his head and kissed her on the lips. She bit until she tasted blood. He straightened and patted the wound with a fresh white handkerchief, and waited.
A trembling pushed from her belly to her mouth and she choked on sobs. "My little worm," she said, "you've come for me."
"My eternal beloved, your very sweat is so luminous that it would cast a shadow of the sun on God."
"My butt itches."
He squirmed his hand under her.
"Not so deep," she said, "and lower. Aaahhhh. That's enough."
Shadrach withdrew his hand and discreetly sniffed it.
Dusty Astroglide, space cop, throttled his cutter out of batwarp and down into the Gridspace backwater where the warptube had spat the chaff of its cracking. From the double-seat nosetip of the bulletship, a skewed panorama of carnage was visible at only 10x shrinkzoom.
Dusty was smooth-skinned and lithe, with wild sandy hair and a stone face on hair trigger to bursting with focused elan. He turned to his timepilot, Treblinka Von Zerelli, a wiry midscroll mountain elf with a tan backslanting face, ring-curled bleached hair, and the hawklike bearing of a regal adventurer. Their uniforms were Minoan vatleather, hot pink and black.
"Dude!" He pumped his fist. "You were so fast, we must have been sub-time for half the trip."
She high-fived him. "You were dodging paradox like a cutback surfer. We must be hours ahead of the next law."
Down behind them, in her civvies of thriftstore Glimmer and Quercan, cherubic ethertech Godzuki Toke bounced into a puffy recliner, stuck out her tongue, and popped a psych. She levered back and looked at the ceiling, where a screen of enhanced true noise cog-boosted her into Etherspace.
"Zuki," Blink said, "What's the word?"
Eyes closed and masked now, she swam in a gentle ocean of frothy bubbles that made Arbitrary space feel like a stormy pond. "No new distress beacons, so the crack is healed. I'm raising my icon."
"Whoa!" Dusty pointed to a screen where a cubic landscape was scrolling. "We're not gridparked. This whole thing is moving nearly point one C."
"Sure," Blink said, "along the tube, lagging its warp-velocity. There'll be another crashfield backwise."
Zuki said, "But there isn't."
"And our vector," Dusty said, "is crosstube, with both directions resolving to the same grid-V."
Blink said, "That's like flipping a coin and it lands on the edge."
As the psych hit Zuki's brain, Etherspace focused to a roiling anthill, and she sought the dispatcher's icon. First she saturated the colors, and then zoned in to the universal police colors of red and black. There she caught his vibe, and in the pictograph language of ethertechs, they exchanged greetings.
With six pictures, she said, "1, wreck, moving, X, tube, fast."
He picted back, "?!" And then a field of noise, a wheat seedhead, and a mandala.
"He says it's like a crop circle."
Blink said, "My cousins on the faeward plain got those all the time in their fields of flutecaine."
"Dude," Dusty said, "this isn't elfland. We're on the shoulder of the fully legit Glimmer Aqua Pitcairn convergence."
"We're being hailed." Blink looked at a text screen with downscrolling distress messages, limited by law to 32 standard characters. Among the usual vague appeals, like "6 CREW HURT PLZ HELP", one stood out.
"THANAN MUTINY SEEKS FUGITIVE"
Inside a Devonian biofreighter, among skeleton-suited raiders moving Silphium and trilobites, Dusty and Blink found the mutineers in a side cabin, two men young and proud in their upstyled bones.
There, on a two-cubit screen, they watched the princess deathmatch.
"This is so hot," Dusty said. "We'll need a copy, but not sped up."
"It is not sped up."
"We will so go after her. Wait, what did she do?"
"Did you not hear her challenge? 'I will violate chainlaw and fight you anyway.'"
Blink shook her head. "That's just a threat. Whatever transgressive value it had, your Captain cashed it in fully to take surprise. Your fugitive is cleaner than space."
Dusty had not taken his eyes from the screen. "But sweatier."
"You can still go after her, yes? Not arrest her, but tell us where she is."
"It almost sounds," Dusty said, "like you're planning to kill her."
"Oh, no," the Thanan said. "We just want dirt. This elf has bewitched our Captain, and viewing the villainy of her idol will unravel the snares that have led her to break with our ways."
"Confirm me," Blink said, slipping into legalspeak. "You are contracting a transgress-slanted document of an outchainer's ongoing story."
"Confirmed, if it is within the law."
Dusty said, "It just takes longer than arresting her."
"We are suddenly wealthy."
"We don't need your money," Blink said, "but as continuing players in this drama, we request full decryption keys, both electromagnetic and etheric, to the internal dialogues of the mutineers."
Out in the passageway, squeezing sideways past batts of spidersilk, Blink said to Dusty, "I know her."