This is the eighth chapter of my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca. I publish a new chapter each week. To read other chapters, click on the category Ainadamar.
“That priestess on Pandema said the book’s other volume was destroyed hundreds of years ago,” said the doctor, clinging to the railing by Mona’s station. “If that is so, why travel to Earth at all?”
“Time,” said the captain. He laughed. “We, of all people in the universe, know time as others only dream of it.”
“True,” said Slim. “But whatever happened to us, however it happened, the thing that brought us together, I didn’t control it. Did you?”
“No,” admitted Stratsimir. “But I have not been idle since arriving here. I can get us where we need to go, or rather, when.” He picked up a dull grey box from the deck and set it on his lap. He pressed his thumb against the oval lockplate and the box opened with a hiss. He lifted out an object roughly the shape and size of a pineapple, but with a flat base and large scales. It looked in fact, like a gigantic jujube. Warming with the electrical current in the captain’s hands, it turned from the color of brick dust to a ruby red, as though lit from within.
“What is that?” asked Dem, with some trepidation.
“This was rescued from an illegal archaeological excavation of the TektaşBurnu ship sheds several years ago,” replied the captain. “What it was used for is hard to say. What we can use it for is not.”
“That’s a slip-node extension,” said Patches, from the hatch. He walked up to the object and crouched down to examine it, flicking his ears as he did so. He nodded. “It’s a temporal node.”
Dem laughed. “There’s no such thing.”
“Not so, Mr. Pilato,” said the captain. “You know about temporal fencing.”
“Well, yes. We have some in the store. But that slows time. It employs small relativity engines. That’s science. But to go ‘back’ in time? That’s fiction. The time barrier is a fundament of the universe.”
“That’s what they used to say about the speed of light,” said Patches, twitching his whiskers with excitement.
“And they were right,” said the pilot. “You can’t go faster than the speed of light. We get around it by slipping through space at a fold-point.
“I expect this node allows the slip engine to do the same thing with time,” said Patches.
Stratsimir closed the box and handed it to Patches. “There is no installation manual.”
“I’ll write it,” said Patches, leaping down the hatchway. Stratsimir laughed.
“Back to your stations!”
(It’s tempting to say “he roared.” A ship’s captain should, after all, roar, at least every now and again. But Stratsimir was not the roaring type.)
“I’d like to lend Patches a hand, captain,” said Slim.
“If you can get him to let you, you have leave,” said Stratsimir. Slim nodded and followed Patches, where he would no doubt be hidden away in his lab next to the engine room.
“Mr. Pilato.” The captain had stood up and approached the pilot’s station. He patted his shoulder very lightly as he looked out at space through the open bridge window.
“It’s getting complicated, captain.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve run out of simple solutions.”
Mona and Stratsimir clambered down through the hatches from the bridge to the slip engine room to check on Patches’ progress. The whole engine room was aglow from the node Patches was working on at the far end of the 20-foot slip tubes.
He was leaning over the node, his face lit by the roseate light emanating from the node. He wore smoked-quartz goggles. Slim, also wearing eye protection, stood behind him, checking power read-outs on a monitor. He held up a hand.
“Avert your eyes,” he shouted, unhooking two sets of goggles from a hook above the nearby work bench. Mona put a pair on. Stratsimir raised an eyebrow and his eyes darkened to a deep garnet color, sclera and iris both. The captain’s pupils always looked darker than a hole in space, so, no change there.
“When we first attached the node and it lit up, we were blind for a quarter hour,” said Slim, rehooking the pair of goggles meant for Stratsimir.
“I suppose by this point I ought to stop being surprised,” he said. “You managed to attach it.”
“It took a little experimentation in terms of controlling the power flow,” said Slim.
“This thing wanted to connect to the slip,” said Patches. “It was like a magnet’s attraction to iron.”
Slim said that Patches had fashioned the four-fingered carriage the node sat in.
“Power comes in here,” said the engineer, indicating a nozzle-shaped trigger. “Normally the plotting appliance shapes the fold here.” He tapped the chromed sphere with a claw. “As it’s being actuated along the cylinder.” He indicated the long tubes that most people pictured when they thought about a slip engine.
“But we shunted the power at the top so the plotting appliance and the temporal node are powered simultaneously,” said Slim.
“Won’t that halve the power?” asked Mona.
“Good question,” said Patches. “It would have. But Slim doubled the capacitors.”
“Plotting the spatial fold I understand,” said Stratsimir. “It’s not that different from regular navigation. But how in the universe are we going to select our destination in time?”
“This is all guesswork,” said the engineer.
“But you can make a pretty good guess, can’t you?”
Patches twitched his ears. “The universe is describable in all its aspects only in one language, mathematics. Presumably, whoever made this made it to operate in mortal space. Therefore, they thought mathematically. So we created an analogical interface for the temporal drive, translating the positional instructions into mathematical ones. But it is essentially the same type of nav as we already use. We determine the base point ‘present’ from the radiate-decay of the node itself and plot deviations from n, where n has the value of now”
“Behind, forward, above, below, port, starboard,” said the captain.
Slim nodded. “Just replace those terms with temporal and causal equivalents, before, afterward, future, past latent and actual, because and therefore.”
“Time?” asked Stratsimir. He laughed. “I mean, how long before we can test it?”
“If by ‘test’ you mean, ‘try it with no guarantee we won’t be instantly reduced to subatomic particles and fountained across every possible time,’ I’d say about 24 hours.” The engineer grinned. “Of course, it’s all relative, Captain.”
Mona groaned, then turned to pull her goggles off. She handed them backward to Slim.
“Try not to make us one with the universe, alright Mr. Melk?”
Mona and the captain sat in his private quarters, drinking. Mona gulped great draughts of rum from a pewter mug with an oval enamel plaque that said “I Threaded the Needle at the Respighi Star Fountains.“
The captain, feet crossed across the high gloss of his Alden Cordovan chukkas, held a small clay cup containing one of his rarer acquisitions.
“What for?“ asked Mona from underneath her hair, red as fresh copper in the lamplight.
“Don’t play dumb, Johnny. You’re a fast boy. That’s why we like you. You keep moving. We keep getting paid. This is not a fast move, old friend. This is not a profitable run. I don’t get it.“
The captain set his cup down on the round shelf attached the reading lamp next to his chair.
“Yes you do,” he said, smiling. “You do. You know like I know. Exactly like I do, in fact. Everyone on board does. That’s why they’re not arguing. This is bigger than that, Mona. Plus.” He tapped the side of his nose. “I have a feeling that this will in fact be profitable.”
“Oh, Johnny,” she said, “Philosophy? From you? That’s shameful.”
“No, I don’t mean profitable in a cosmic sense. I mean if we don’t do this, we won’t make a Fornaxian zloty. If we do…” He smiled.
Mona breathed out for what felt the first time in days. She leaned back. And they drank together in silence.
The Madrugada was close to Earth now. A number of the crew were effected, each in their own way, by this “return,” even though the last one to leave, Slim, had been gone for over eight years. Nimue, one would have thought, would be the least effected. She had been absent from Earth the longest, but could enter Faërie from an almost infinite number of places around the universe. As long as there were trees, wind and water, she could affect a passage. But Faërie was inextricably connected to this far, odd planet out at the end of things. She remembered the Romans coming, she remembered the lake, she remembered the crystal cave Emrys entered, never to return. She remembered the standing stones and the ocean of chalk cliffs, the pine and the time her people lived on both sides of the Wall. She shone with the light of yearning and was sad. To enter Faërie here would be powerful, and dangerous.
Finally, they all gathered together on the bridge. Mona, Stratsimir, Slim and Nimue stood rapt before the screen and watched the blue-green stone of the Earth swim in its setting of stars, the bone-colored moon encircling it. They reached out to each other, their minds touching.
Dem watched them thoughtfully from his station, his deep blue tone matching the waters of the lonely globe. Patches silently took the nav station and Dded clung to the railing circling Mona’s console. Stanislaus stood thoughtfully, hands on the back of the captain’s empty chair.
“It is…” began Slim.
“Beautiful,” said Mona.
Emrys… Nimue thought. Something snagged a thought like a hawthorn spine grabbing at a scarf, before tearing loose.
“’The crier at the fountain of tears is the key,’” said Stratsimir quietly. “That’s stupid.“ He walked to the captain’s seat and pressed the com. “Patches, how finely have you calibrated your temporal interface?”
“I can’t get closer than the equivalent of 18 hours, Captain,” said the engineer’s voice. “Not if we want to control spatial plotting. In empty space I could probably get it down to minutes, but in such a junky system, that is extremely inadvisable. We’d risk winding ass-up in the bottom of the ocean floor.”
“Very well, Mr. Melk. We’ll aim at two days prior to the poet’s execution. We’ve identified a hill behind the city where we should be able to put down. Mona will provide you with exact coordinates. Once it’s plotted, meet us in the ready room.”
Two hours later, the crew gathered together in the captain’s ready room. The screen was up and filled with a map of a city and its environs. The city was identified as “Granada.” A hill on the southeast of the city was marked “Sacromonte.” Above the city, to the north, a range of mountains that curved around to the east and south was identified as the “Sierra de Alfacar” and there, held in the curve of the range, between what looked like two villages marked Viznar and Alfacar, a small circle was labeled “Ainadamar.”
Stratsimir tapped it.
“This is where the magic happens.”
They all looked over the map in silence.
“Before we talk about the operation itself, I want to revisit what we’ve learned. I have had several visions. In them, the same voice has given me information. I have no reason to distrust this voice, as some of what it’s said has proven to be true. Nor do I have any reason to completely trust it. I don’t know who it belongs to. I don’t know what its game is.
“This voice told me ‘the crier at the fountain of tears is the key.’ For a number of reasons, including the circumstances surrounding the loss of the second volume, we believe the crier is a certain person, a Spaniard from Earth, who was murdered in the 20th century. I believe this person will in some wise lead us to that remaining volume.
“The book, consisting of nine pages, is arranged in two volumes. We have one of them. The book is the text of a protocol for fixing creation. This protocol is as old as creation itself. It was, somewhere along the line, written down, then guarded by some kind of priesthood, then lost in part and then in whole. No one has fixed creation in 5,000 years. Without our finding and using this book, creation’s entropy will continue. The Divine narrative will eventually falter and end.
“If the Order finds it first, ‘eventually’ will become ‘immediately.’ The Created worlds will be collapsed to a single point in space. The Order is being assisted, accidentally or on purpose we cannot tell, by both the Exegetic Guards and this glyphomancer.
“We are on our own and creation itself depends on us. So. You know. No pressure.”
The captain evoked a glass of wine and drank. He set it down on the desk.
“Our immediate mission goal?” asked Dem.
“To find and extract the person, this “poet,” named Garcia. Small, dark, human, about 40 years of age. From here, Ainadamar, the ‘fountain of tears.’ That’s goal one.”
“Tactical?” asked Slim.
“According to historical records, the poet is due to be murdered on the morning of August 19, 1936. We need to get there before that happens and get him out. Ideas.”
“Why don’t we sweep in with the Madrugada?” asked Dded.
Stratsimir shook his head. “We can’t risk the attention and we can’t risk altering time. Time, as we know more than most, is tricky and cannot be controlled by personal will.”
Patches snapped his fingers. “If we want minimal invasiveness, why not use the temporal fencing in the store.”
“To what end?” asked the captain.
“Put it in place ahead of time, activate the dampening field just as the poet is to be killed, grab him, and go.”
“If we are trying to avoid attracting attention, we may not want to have a condemned poet disappear in thin air in front of witnesses,” objected Slim.
“Change his clothes.”
“What?” asked Mona.
“Change his clothes,” repeated Stanislaus. “Replace his living body with a corpse, someone else who looks like him but has already died, dressed in his clothes.” He started to color. “Maybe they won’t notice.”
“Very good, Stan,” said Mona with a smile. Stratsimir looked at him. Then grinned. It was not a reassuring grin to a creature who had been through as much as the Stan had.
“Alright. Tactical.” The captain touched the screen where “Sacromonte” was written. “We’re going to touch down here, on the far side of this hill, away from the city. For obvious reasons, only human crew members—and Stanislaus—will be traveling to the mission target.”
“Captain, why aren’t we landing by the hills in the north, where the target is?” asked Dr. Ll, gesturing with a free tentacle.
“The mountains in that area are too hard to land in,” said Dem. He touched the screen on that part of the map and it changed to a satellite view and zoomed in. “And scans show a lot of movement through the hills around there. We can hide better behind the Sacromonte.” He touched the screen again and returned it to map mode.
“We will land at dusk on the 18th. We will travel, under cover of the night, to the execution site,” continued the captain. “We’ll skirt this “Albaicín” area until we reach the water channel, which we will follow back up through the hills to its source at the fountain. We’ll lie in wait in this olive grove, just opposite the killing fields. In the dead of night, we’ll set up the pylons for the temporal fencing, here.” The captain touched it, and zoomed in.
“By the way, anyone speak Spanish?”
“Patches, Dded and Dem will stay behind with the Mad.”
The meeting lasted nearly four hours and when it ended, the crew had a detailed plan of action, covering all possibilities they could anticipate and allowing for the unexpected. Additionally, each crew member had worked out and harmonized each of their duties with the others’. They had just under 24 hours for preparation and rest before they would begin. They would wait until the area of the globe they were targeting came around beneath them again.
So, they would go back in time, stop time locally, kidnap a condemned poet at the point of his death, replace him with a corpse dressed in the poet‘s clothing, restart local time, bring the poet back to the ship, find out from him the location of the second volume of the most powerful book ever written, retrieve it, all without being discovered or materially altering the flow of time to that point, go forward in time again to the present, figure out how to use the book to fix the shape of the worlds, ensuring the continued progress of the Divine narrative across all times and space, simultaneously defeating the most powerful group of religious nutjobs the universe had ever known and frustrate a sorcerer with a power that has not been seen in millennia, while avoiding the potentially deadly interference of any number of other individuals and groups all of whom were stone cold certain that they too were doing what needed to be done.
In other words, all they had to do was save the universe.
“Why they killing this guy, anyway, Johnny?” asked Mona.
Stratsimir shrugged. “They don’t like college boys in their town.”
After the Madrugada’s crew had filed out to make their preparations, Stratsimir floated slowly up into the air and leaned back until he was lying parallel to the floor. He looked at the ceiling.
“We could really screw the pooch on this one.”
They had all left the ready room and taken up their stations again.
“We’ve got a disturbance, Captain,” said Mona. “A…focused wave of some sort.”
“Show me, Mona.”
Mona threw the readings to the screen. A small orange circle moved over the star chart. Its vector was a collision course with the Madrugada.
“All hands, brace and batten!” yelled the captain. “Fire, Mr. Weekiebye.”
Weekiebye tried desperately to find something tangible to target with no luck. He threw up his hands as the circle met the triangular symbol for the Madrugada.
The wave hit, but there was no impact. The force of the wave seemed to break up as it struck the ship. But suddenly Stratsimir was propelled backward out of his chair and struck the wall between Nimue’s station and the door. A surprised Weekiebye knelt down to help the captain up but was repelled and knocked backward himself.
Stratsimir half-stood, half-hung in the air, fighting off an unseen assailant. The crew began pulling guns and blades out of holsters and scabbards.
“Hold!” cried Mona
There was nothing to attack, so far as she could see. The captain himself was somehow blurred, as though moving at a normal rate of speed and 10 times normal, at the same instant. Weekiebye thought he was looking at two Stratsimirs, both fighting for the same space.
“Guys, what’s going on?” asked Patches’ voice through the com. “Please ‘old, Monsieur Le Melk,” said Weekiebye quietly.
The captain crouched down, one leg thrown out behind him, and clutched at his own chest. It looked like he was trying to tear his own shirt off. Considering the fact that it was a custom-made Junya Watanabe Oxford, that was unlikely. It soon became apparent that something much more—well a little more—fantastic was happening than the captain purposefully destroying clothing. He was pulling another being out of his chest.
Stratsimir toppled over, pulling a back, and now a shoulder, out of his torso. He levered a head out and struggled to move a knee onto this bit of new body. He planted it on his opponent’s neck and reared back, tearing himself partially loose. Weekiebye closed again, wrapping his arms around the thing’s torso and pulling. He twisted on his heels and threw the almost-disentangled body heavily to the deck plates and himself on top of it. Stratsimir pulled his legs away from the newcomer’s like pulling off a pair of wet pants, then collapsed. The newcomer got operatically sick into the perforated section of the decking, instantly dispelling the notion that it was a spirit of any kind.
The captain’s vision swam.
“Oh, Johnny,” said Mona, holding him upright. Weekiebye pressed a thin dagger against the newcomer’s neck. With a notable lack of concern for the relationship between the dagger and the culprit’s neck, he hauled him to his feet and swept the hood back from his face. Stratsimir, partially recovered, laughed.
“Why, Crown Prince! As much as it is an honor to have you on board the Madrugada, I do not believe even your royal status entitles you to enter it in the fashion you did.” He then punched him in the face with every remaining particle of his strength and they both passed out.
Mona and the by-now completely recovered Stratsimir stood in front of the alcove in the hold that was doing double-duty as a makeshift cell for Zbiss Tel Eridane, Crown Prince of Eridanus, son of the Archon, Nephew of the Dauphin. The Crown Prince stood, waxy-faced and frightened, on the other side of the aluminized webbing.
“Release me at once!” he demanded.
“You have come on board my ship, without announcing yourself, via my body. We are far removed from the area of your authority. Amend your tone of voice when speaking to a captain on board his ship.”
“Where are we? Take me back to Hiero immediately.”
“We are currently in stationary orbit above a small, remote world in the Milky Way galaxy called Earth,” replied the captain. “As to your demand, I believe I mentioned previously, your writ does not run here.”
“Don’t give yourself airs, you tick, I’m the Crown…” Stratsimir reached in through the bars, grabbed the Crown Prince by the shirtfront and hurled him back against the bulkhead.
“If you issue one more demand, or fail to immediately alter your manner of address to me, I will tear out your throat and drink every last drop of your in-bred blood.”
The Crown Prince saw a flicker of bloodred deep in the captain’s eyes. His skin had become paler and his unholy nature abundantly clear.
“How did you get here?” asked Stratsimir, wiping his fingers off on an Irish linen handkerchief monogrammed with a small red Gothic S.
The Crown Prince folded his arms petulantly across his chest and affected a boredom with the proceedings.
“They sent me.”
“The Order,” he said, collapsing back onto a pile of pentatriticale sacks and raising a small, sad dust.
“Why?” asked Mona.
“It’s…hard to remember.”
“Do,” insisted the captain.
“I was to take control of your body and scuttle the mission,” said the Crown Prince. “Then I was to get the ship back to Order space.”
“You failed in your charge, Crown Prince. As I suspect you’ve failed in many things. It should come as some consolation to you to know that, had you succeeded, you would not have received whatever it was the Order had promised you.”
“All I wanted was my rightful seat as Archon!”
“Trivial!” said Stratsimir. “Wait. What? Do you have no idea what these maniacs were planning?”
“Oh, yes,” said the Crown Prince, looking bored. “Restore the original purity of the universe, etc., etc. Rubbish. Rulers have always had to deal with religious powers.”
“Not rubbish, Crown Prince Halfwit. Their threat is very real. If you had succeeded, all the worlds of your archonate would in short order fill up the least corner of a pastille tin.”
He was shaken and hid his face in his hands, weeping silently, though, the captain imagined, more out of frustration and self-pity than horror for what he had almost done.
Stratsimir and Mona stood in the gangway outside the hold.
“As trenchant an argument against the rule of nobility as any,” said the captain.
“You come from a noble family, don’t you Johnny?”
“No need to rub it in, Mona.”
Public domain photo from NASA via Wikimedia Commons